Unexpected

by Nick Farrier

Copyright© 2018 by Nick Farrier

Science Fiction Story: Terry Montgomery, in her capacity as an agent for a book publisher, comes across an unpublished manuscript that leads her to investigate the untimely death of one of her favourite authors. In turn this leads to a sinister encounter at a Book Festival.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Fiction   Mystery   Science Fiction   Time Travel   Paranormal  

I have always loved reading. I read all sorts of books, both fact and fiction. I like travel books, history books, biographies, mysteries, murders, in fact all sorts of reading material. My very favourite are short stories with a twist in the tale: Those clever stories that have an unexpected ending. A favourite author is Jack Finney whose tales are often about shifts in time. The titles of his various books on Amazon give the clue to his obsession with time - “Time and Time Again,” “About Time” and “From Time to Time,” are just three examples of his anthologies. Some of the stories are just a few pages long but there is almost always a delicious, unexpected twist that never fails to surprise and delight. I mention my interest in books at the outset because it was my love of Time-Shift stories that led to my own encounter with this fascinating subject.

Before I embark on my tale, which I assure you will not compete with the works of Jack Finney, I had better introduce myself. I’m Terry Montgomery, well actually that is Theresa Montgomery but at school my friends called me Terry and, well, it’s kind of stuck. Mum hated it, saying if I had wanted you to be called Terry I would have had a boy. Personally, I got to like the name Terry so now on official documents I am Theresa but to my friends and on social occasions I am Terry.

Dave and myself were childhood sweethearts and we were married far too young. Dave is a plodder, not very ambitious. He has a job at a small metal fabrication company and when we first set up home together, we struggled along like a million other young couples. I wanted to improve myself and I started doing courses at night school and began to see that there were other opportunities in that big wide world. Eventually I was awarded my degree in English Literature through the Open University and landed a job with Hawkes and Randell, a publishing company. It was a bit like that film, Educating Rita. At first my new career caused some tension in our marriage because our aspirations and interests diverged considerably. Dave was happy to continue turning out widgets at Armitage’s Brass Works so long as he could go and play darts with his mates at The Bricklayer’s Arms in the evening. I was meeting with aspiring authors and attending events that often meant staying overnight in hotels. Dave didn’t mind that so long as I left him some meals he could warm up in the microwave, though more often than not he’d settle for a pie and pea supper at the Bricklayer’s or get an Indian Takeaway on his way home. Then gradually Dave began to see the benefits of having an ambitious wife, although when my salary overtook his and I became the main bread winner in the household Dave did harbour some resentment. He felt that his place as man of the house had been undermined. My salary helped us to move from our ‘two up and two down’ terrace property on the outskirts of Barnsley to a nice detached house with garden in the pretty village of Cawthorne to the west of Barnsley. As I was allocated a company car, Dave was able to have sole use of our 7 years old Ford Fiesta. That pleased him, although he was a bit jealous of my new Vauxhall Astra. Dave missed the Bricklayers Arms at first but gradually found a home at The Spencer Arms, a beautiful public House dating back to the 18th Century. Some of my drive for upward mobility must have rubbed off on Dave, because one day he came home from Armitage’s and announced that he was thinking of applying for the post of supervisor in the Polishing and Finishing Department. That was the first time that he had given any indication he was interested in advancing his career. Three weeks later his promotion was confirmed. We celebrated with a delicious meal at The Spencer Arms.

My job takes me around the country, visiting bookshops and attending book fairs and other publishing events. I love it. My most recent assignment was to look after my firm’s display stand at The Hay-on-Wye Annual Book Festival. I was delighted. Obviously, I knew about Hay-on-Wye. Of course, I did. Who in the book world had not? I knew that Hay is a small town in Wales, close to the Brecon Beacons National Park, but I had never visited the town. So, you can imagine my eager anticipation. There would be talks by famous and not so famous authors, book stalls, signings in fact everything a book lover could wish for. I felt sure I would have opportunities to explore all that the festival had to offer. I had heard that, in addition to the festival, there were lots of second-hand book shops around the town. Some with an eclectic mix of reading material whilst others catered for specific areas of interest.

That brings me back to my hobby of reading. I have never really taken to kindle and other electronic reading aids. Sure, I’ve tried it but never found the experience as satisfying as the feel of a real book, turning the pages, keeping my place with a real bookmark. I have several, some with pictures of places I have visited. I began to think I was old fashioned, everyone I knew extolled the virtues of kindle, eschewing the printed word. Then, very recently, I read about a survey that revealed, despite the growing popularity of electronic reading, 75% of all reading is still done from printed books. I found the revelation liberating. I was not as alone in my love of the printed word as I had feared. The thing that gives me greatest pleasure is to discover an old, out of print book in a second-hand book store. Not just any out of print book of course but one by an author I particularly like or the discovery of a gem that I had not previously encountered. I can spend hours browsing the dusty shelves of old bookshops, so I need hardly say that I was looking forward to exploring the bookshops of Hay.

The day finally arrived and I was ready to set off to Hay-on-Wye in my Vauxhall Astra.

“Are you sure you will be alright Dave,” I asked. “Have you everything you will need?”

“You ask me that every time you go away, love. You know I can manage.”

“Yes, I know, love, but you are a bit disorganised. Now don’t forget there is some cooked ham in the fridge. Make sure you use it up. I don’t want it to go to waste.” After years of being careful with my money, I couldn’t bear to have to throw food away.

Dave sighed and assured me he would make sure not to waste anything. We kissed each other goodbye and I set off to Hay. Dave’s final words as I backed off the drive admonished me to drive carefully. It was a long drive to Hay, over 180 miles and Dave knew that I was unfamiliar with the route. The first section of the journey, travelling south on the M1 Motorway was familiar enough but after 60 miles or so I had to branch off south west to Wales. I planned to make a stop for a break somewhere in vicinity of Birmingham.

I arrived at Hay in the mid-afternoon. Locating the festival site was no problem as the site was well sign-posted. It is held in a field with the various exhibitions housed under marquees. I soon found my firm’s gazebo which had been set up by colleagues from the Welsh office. I unloaded my crates from the boot of the Astra and set out my wares in a section of our stand. Stepping back, I looked at our display with a critical eye and made a few adjustments until I has satisfied. My part of the display featured our latest publication - “In a Glass Darkly,” by Tom Firbrite. Hawkes and Randell had been fortunate in securing UK publishing rights for Mr Firbrite against fierce competition. Already “In a Glass Darkly” had made the best seller lists. I studied the plaque listing the reviews.

“Tom Firbrite has done it again, a real page turner - The Guardian; Scared me stiff. I will never look in a mirror again – The Sun; This will keep you awake at night – Evening Standard; Couldn’t put it down – Boston Globe”

You can imagine how excited I had greeted the news that, subject to a busy schedule, Tom Firbrite had agreed to visit our stand on the final day of the festival for a book signing event.

I was joined by Derek Longhurst and Kaylee Penistone from our London office. We all knew each other from previous meetings at the London headquarters. We worked out a crude shift system which would ensure that we each had a few hours away from the stand each day of the festival. Satisfied that our stand was fully prepared and looking good we decided to leave and be ready the following morning for an early start ready for the festival crowds to arrive.

We had a few hours before dinner at the hotel so I dropped my stuff off in my room and promised Kaylee and Derek that I would meet up with them at dinner. In the meantime, I planned to wander around town and take a look at some of the independent book sellers. I soon discovered that the book shops covered a range of specialisms – History; Flora and fauna; Children’s books; Mystery and Suspense as well as a number of general book stores. I was amused to see that one bookshop was housed in what had been an old cinema.

It was hard to know where to start. I decided to just get a general impression and leave a more detailed exploration until I had more time.

I headed back to my hotel to give myself time to change for dinner. I had made a few turnings during my tour of the town but I was fairly confident that I knew which direction I should head in. I figured that a narrow street would provide a short cut back to the main road that I needed. It was then that I saw ‘Galaxy Science Fiction.’ I couldn’t resist the temptation. At the risk of making myself late, I just had to go in.

‘There were rows and rows of dusty shelves displaying hundreds of books. One wall relieved the monotony of the utilitarian shelving by incorporating a once smart glass cabinet. It included several first edition books on display stands. A first edition of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Philosopher Stone was priced up at £1,055. The shelves were packed with science fiction books. The shop owner had carefully arranged them by author in alphabetical order. I went quickly to the ‘F’ section and was delighted to find a good selection of Jack Finney books. I pulled out a paperback copy of ‘I Love Galesburg in the Springtime.’ As I idly flicked through the pages it brought back happy memories. The book was the first Jack Finley book I had ever purchased many years ago. Wait! What’s this? I realised that one of the short stories in the book was not in my copy. ‘The Third Level,’ was definitely not in my copy of the volume, although the title did ring a bell. Then I turned to the title page of the book and noted that this was an American publication and for some reason the publishers had decided to include a slightly different selection of Finney’s short stories. I placed the book back in its place on the shelf and then a book further along the same shelf caught my eye: ‘The Night Ferry’ by Arthur Foley. Gosh, it is years since I read an Arthur Foley story. I remembered ‘The Night Ferry,’ very well. The macabre novel had made a deep impression on me in my teenage years. Then there had been ... Oh what was the title? The one about the train that took its passengers to unexpected destinations. The name will come to me later. What happened to Arthur Foley? He had a strong presence up to about ten years ago and then he just disappeared from view. Had he died? Had he retired?

I went over to the counter and spoke to the man I assumed to be the owner of the shop.

“I see you have an Arthur Foley on the shelf. You don’t happen to have any, more do you? There is one about a train. I can’t recall the title.”

“Ah, you’ll mean “The Train Now Standing.” An excellent book. Foley’s best if you ask me. But no, I’m sorry the only one I have is The Night Ferry. And now Foley has passed on I am afraid there will be no more.”

“Oh, so he is dead. I wondered. But he couldn’t have been very old. In his forties or fifty at the most. Was he ill, do you know?”

The man looked at me curiously. “Look, if you can come back tomorrow I may have something that will interest you. When Foley died he was working on the manuscript for a new story. I have it in my store room. I will find it for you to look at if you are interested. His death was rather strange too. Come back tomorrow and I will see what I can find.”

I met up with Derek and Kaylee for dinner as planned, although I was five minutes late. During the meal I was somewhat distracted, thinking about the bookshop and the discovery of the Arthur Foley Book. Derek and Kaylee were in an animated conversation about our stand at the book festival.

“Is Tom Firbrite definitely coming for the book signing Derek?”

“We’re not really sure Kaylee. He promised to try to get over from the States. I think the UK market is quite important to her but he is a very busy writer. We may know more definitely tomorrow. Do you know anything Terry? Terry are you listening?”

“Huh? Oh, sorry Derek. I was miles away.”

“We were just wondering if the great author, Tom Firbrite is to grace us with his presence for the signing. Do you know?”

“Well I certainly hope so. We could try emailing him.”

“I’ll do that.” Derek, as the senior person in charge of the festival exhibition asserted his authority.

The following day was pretty busy with a steady stream of festival goers perusing our stand. I was counting the minutes to my break. I would not be able to settle until I had learned more about Arthur Foley. Even the impending visit of the great author, T. Firbrite failed to curb my curiosity about what the owner of Galaxy Science Fiction might be able to disclose.

At last my two-hour break came around and I made a bee line to Galaxy Science Fiction Books. There were a small number of other customers making purchases so I stood back until Dai (I overheard one of other customers address him as such) was free.

“Ah! The Arthur Foley enthusiast. Yes, I have found something that I think will interest you.” He reached to a shelf below the counter and brought up a book with a plain brown paper cover.

“Now Miss er... ?”

“Theresa Montgomery, Dai. Please call me Terry.”

“Right Oh, Terry. Before I show you this book I had better explain how it came into my possession.”

I paid rapt attention to Dai Jones, one of several in the locality of that name, as he recounted his tale.

“The thing is that Arthur Foley passed away in this very town, not half a mile from where we are now. He was, I believe, visiting the book festival, Oh, it must have been ten years back. I think he was due to present a talk on the art of writing sci-fi, but he didn’t live long enough. He passed away in his room at the guesthouse where he was staying.”

“Was he ill?” I asked.

“Well that was the strange thing, according to Taffy Jones, who runs the ‘Brecon View’. That’s the guesthouse you understand, Arthur arrived as fit as a flea but died before the end of the week.”

“That’s odd”. I remarked thoughtfully, “He could not possibly have been a day over 50 at the most.”

“That’s right. Actually, I think he was 51 but quite fit. The cleaner who looked after his room saw him toward the end of the week and could scarcely recognise him. I believe she was a witness at the Coroner’s inquest because she was the last person to see him alive.

I was stunned into silence. Dai paused before continuing. “Of course, as it was a sudden death, the police were summoned. There was no indication of foul play so there was no investigation. The death was reported to the coroner who ordered a post mortem examination. So far as I know they just concluded that Foley died of natural causes.”

“That’s all know really, except Taffy found this book in his room. It looks like Foley was in the process of writing a new novel. I’ve known Taffy for years. As I run this shop, he thought I might be interested in it. They tried to find relatives, without success. The coroner’s office tried too but I don’t think they came up with anything. So, I got the book. You are welcome to look at it here in the shop. One day I might get around to seeing if I can get it published. Maybe I could get an author to complete it.”

“Mr Jones,”. I said, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice. “Mr Jones I am an associate with Hawkes and Randell.” I fumbled in my handbag to get one of my business cards. “Here look, Hawkes and Randell - Publishers. How about you loan me the book and allow me to review it and who knows...”

Dai Jones thought about it, weighing the book in his hands and finally agreed. “But be sure to return it tomorrow. That book could be my pension.”

Hardly able to contain my excitement, I left, promising to return the book the next day.

After dinner that evening Derek and Kaylee left the dining room and headed for the bar. Kaylee turned to me “You coming for a drink, Terry?”

“Oh, thanks Kaylee, but no thanks. I’m heading up for an early night. I’m knackered. What with the drive down yesterday and being so busy at the festival. You enjoy your drink and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Derek had already disappeared into the bar. Kaylee grimaced. “I could do with your company. I’m sure Derek wants to get into my knickers. I need someone at my back. Make sure things don’t get out of hand.”

I laughed. “I am sure you can look after yourself love. See you at breakfast.” I left quickly I was desperate to take a look at Foley’s manuscript.

The brown paper covered what was in fact a loose-leaf ring binder. Fastened into the rings were several sheets of typed paper. They had evidently been typed with a typewriter rather than a word processor because the old type had made indentations in the paper and in some cases a letter had been corrected with tippex correcting fluid. At the top of the first page in capital letters were the words A. FOLEY - JOURNAL - 2007.

I started reading:

‘June23rd 2007: I have come once more to the Hay-on-Wye Book Festival. I never seem to tire of it. I don’t mix much with the other authors. I have always preferred my own company and I am not a well-known writer so few festival goers recognise me. That leaves me free to browse uninterrupted and soon I am lost in the hundreds, no thousands of old books. I don’t usually keep a record of my visits to the festival so why, you might ask, should I start now. Well something out of the ordinary has happened this time that impelled me to begin this record.

As anyone who has read any of my books will know, I have always been drawn to the supernatural, the occult, strange happenings and unexplained mysteries. This interest comes through in my writing, but it also consumes much of my life. Nothing fires my interest more than an unworldly encounter.

For a number of years, I have been a student of Zen Buddhism. After many years of practice, I have found that I can achieve a state of trance in which I can have out of body experiences. In this state of deep trance, I am able to allow my inner self to leave my body and travel away from my physical self. Sometimes people undergoing surgery report later that during the procedure they experience a feeling that they have left their body and are watching the surgeons operating on their body from a position above the operating table. Often, they report that in this state they feel perfectly relaxed and at ease. Of course, the sceptics will say that it is an effect of the anaesthetic. Others will say that the soul leaves the body as the patient is close to death and returns when life is restored. Whatever the truth I am now able to enter this state at will.

It was a visit a book shop in Hay a number of years ago that inspired me to experiment in Out of Body experiences. I found an old paperback book by Lobsang Rampa. Remember him? He became famous for his book ‘The Third Eye,’ in which he recounted his life as a Tibetan monk in Lhasa. His works were very popular with the general public for a while until rumours started to circulate that Rampa was a fraud and had never been anyway near Tibet. Notwithstanding that, I was hooked and despite the nay-sayers I experimented with Rampa’s thesis that men could expand their horizons through meditation. Imagine how it would feel to be able experience teleportation by the power of thought alone. Suppose you could move instantly from one place to another. Close your eyes for a moment and consider this - when you open your eyes you will be in another town, no wait! Make that another country.

It took a lot of time and a lot of patience but very gradually I managed to leave my body. That first time I succeeded it was so exhilarating. There I was, the inner me, my spirit, my soul or whatever you wish to call it hovering above my physical body which remained motionless in the chair as if asleep. I tried manoeuvring around in a controlled way, circling the room clockwise and then anti-clockwise. All was going well until I banged into the wall and immediately bounced down into my body with a bump as if jolting awake from a bad dream. After that first attempt I went on from strength to strength. Penetrating walls was a second big breakthrough, literally and figuratively. It was a bit like learning to ride a bike. At first it is so difficult and then, suddenly you get the knack and before long it is second nature.

How can I describe the sensation? Imagine a tightly stretched rubber screen with a slit in the middle. Pushing against it is met with resistance, but gradually the slit widens permitting a passage through the screen. That is the feeling I experience when passing through walls and other obstacles.

Soon I was outside, gliding effortlessly over the house, soaring over roof tops, landing in fields, taking off again and all the time my physical body was in the chair as if sleeping.’

I pondered what I had just read for a moment. At this point Foley changed his format somewhat. The section I had just completed appeared to be an introduction. From that point Foley starts a contemporaneous journal on a day by day basis. I read on:

‘24 June 2007: Instead of taking a preliminary walk around the bookfair and looking into some of the permanent book shops as would be by normal routine I decide to try an experiment. Rather than taking a physical tour of the festival tour I decide to allow my inner self take to the astral plane and see if I can complete my preliminary tour without actually leaving my room at The Brecon View. The bedside clock shows the time is 3.06 in the afternoon. I take a seat in the not very comfortable armchair and soon enter a deep trance.

‘At first I hover at ceiling height and look down at my motionless body in the chair. In a trice I am through the wall and floating effortlessly over the town. From a cruising height of about a hundred feet above the roof tops I soon spot the area where the festival is taking place. I glide smoothly down to ground level and join the crowds that are milling around the stalls. Of course, as I am there in spirit only I cannot be seen and if I brush against anyone there is no sense of feeling, although I confess the first time I walked through a living person was a very strange experience. The festival is very much as I remember from last year, a few new dealers here and there. I look over one of the customer’s shoulders as he flicks through the pages of a gothic novel complete with pen drawings. Not my cup of tea so I wander on. I spot one or two volumes that I quite like the look of. Naturally I am unable to make purchases. As yet I have found no way of carrying cash when I am on the astral plane. I note the locations of the books that interest me and resolve to return in body the following day and make my purchases. I continue around the festival keeping a careful eye out for the more esoteric volumes, hoping to advance my knowledge of the mysteries of out of body phenomena.

‘Eventually, having covered most of the stalls I set off to take a look at the permanent book shops. There are the old familiar ones with a smattering of new ones. Glad to see that Galaxy Science Fiction is still here. One of my favourites. And that’s not just because the owner, Dai Jones always stocks my books! I pop in and find Dai picking his nose in the otherwise empty shop. That is one of the fascinating things about being out of body and invisible. It is always amusing to see what people get up to when they think they are alone. I digress. I take a good look around Dai’s book shelves. As well as the dusty shelves there is a smart glass cabinet with a chromium plate lock, a bit like the cabinets in high class perfumeries or jewellers. There are several first or second edition books arranged on little stands on glass shelves in the cabinet. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone is priced up at £210. Amazing considering it is only ten years since the book was first published. Dai in common with some of the other shop owners is not too keen on people idly browsing around the shop. He always expects you to make a purchase. He is not as bad as some of the owners who make a charge to browse and deduct the browsing fee if a purchase is made. This rule does not apply to invisible browsers so I take a good look without the risk of upsetting Dai. The big disadvantage goes without saying – I can’t handle the books so I am limited to merely looking at the covers. That is unless I stand behind another customer who is browsing and look over his or her shoulder. For some reason looking over a girl’s shoulder is the more pleasant experience.

“I am pleased to see a first edition of my well received book - Night Ferry. I note that it is in very good condition apart from a small tear in the dust cover where it bends round the spine of the binding. It does not merit a place in the glass cabinet.

‘I tire of my game and decide to return to the guest house. I have been snooping around so long I fear that I might miss dinner. When I decide to return to my physical self it is as if a really strong rubber band is zapping me back. Have you ever had that experience when you are dreaming, when you suddenly wake with a start that can almost hurl you out of bed? Well that is just what it feels like when I return to my body. Whap! Here I am back in my chair. I recover my composure and look at my bedside clock to make sure I am still in time for dinner. The hands have scarcely moved. The clock says 3.07. Only two minutes since I left my body. How can that be? The clock must have stopped I reason. I hold it to my ear. No, it is still ticking and I can see the second hand sweeping round the clock face. Somehow in my astral state I have packed several hours of experience into just two minutes of real time. I immediately decide that I must check the facts. I decide that tomorrow I will follow the same route and discover whether what I see conforms to my out of body experience.’

I looked up from the journal. At the point I had reached several lines of type had been heavily struck through with a thick pen. Foley’s journal was not at all what I had expected. I had assumed that it would be the draft of an as yet unpublished novel. What I had read so far suggested that Foley was living one of his own strange tales. Either that or he was smoking some exotic herbs. I looked at my watch. I needed to have a break and ring Dave before he took himself down to the Spencer Arms.

Dave assured me all was well. No, there wasn’t a sink full of dirty pots and he was keeping the place spic and span he assured me. Oh yes, he had finished the cooked ham in a sandwich. Yes, he was missing me very much and hoped I was enjoying the festival. “I have discovered an unpublished Foley,” I informed him.

“Who? What?”

“Arthur Foley, the writer. I have found an unpublished manuscript.”

“Oh, is that good?” Dave sounded somewhat underwhelmed and just a little puzzled.

“Oh, never mind love. I’ll explain when I get home. Enjoy your evening. Love you.”

“Love you back. Bye.”

I needed a drink before I read anymore. As the room did not have a mini bar I decided to go down to the hotel lounge bar. Perhaps Derek and Kaylee might still be there. I opened the bedroom door and stepped out into the corridor just in time to see Kaylee with a bottle of wine and two glasses tapping on a door which was swiftly opened. As Kaylee stepped inside she glanced back and saw me standing outside my door. She gave me a crooked smile and shrugged her shoulder before disappearing into Derek’s room. Who is getting into whose knickers? I wondered.

I bought a measure of Bombay Sapphire and a bottle of Fever Tree tonic and took them back to my room. I wanted to get back into Arthur Foley’s journal.

‘25th June 2007: I set off on foot to discover if I recognise any of the features I saw in my out of body tour. I made my first port of call Galaxy Science Fiction.

“Hello Mr Foley. Nice to see you again.”

“Call me Arthur, Dai, after all we have known each other a long time now.” My eyes alight on the first edition Night Ferry. The slight tear in the dust jacket is there, just as I saw yesterday. “Ah I see you have a first edition of mine, Dai.”

“Yes indeed, Arthur. Night Ferry. One my favourites.”

‘I pick the book up and open it to reveal the price that Dai has written in pencil on the flyleaf. £25. I smile wryly. Not bad I suppose considering the original cover price was £1.99. I look over to the glass cabinet. The J.K. Rowling is there just as I remembered it from yesterday.

‘I assure Dai Jones that I will return later but right now I want to tour the festival. He bids me farewell as I venture out into the sunlight. It takes me all of two hours to explore the festival site and sure enough, I recognise many of the stalls I had seen the previous day. Deep in thought I return to Brecon View.

NB: I am considering the implication of my discovery. Can I really pack several hours of exploration into just 2 minutes? If I really can then it could mean that I could live an extra life. Why not, for instance spend a week in Paris? Have you read the book A Year in Provence? Well I could do that and be back in time for dinner the same day that I set off. Just thinking about it makes me dizzy with excitement.’

The bloke’s gone potty, I thought, reaching for another swig of my gin and tonic. Foley rambled on about astral plane holidays in all sorts of far flung exotic settings. Would he need food, he mused? How do you sustain yourself on the astral plane? What about rest. Would he need sleep. If he did he reasoned that he could slip into any hotel and take a sleep. He finally concluded that all these questions were imponderable. The only way to find out was to try it.

What followed was a series of entries listing what were apparently destinations with a time in brackets - London (2 days); Paris (1 week); New York (31 days). These entries were all in the same type face as the previous entries. From then on, the entries were in pencil written with a shaky hand: Provence (a year) followed by a word I couldn’t quite read. It could have been Lhasa, but equally it could have been Leeds or Lima. The hand writing was getting harder to read.

Then, sloping at an angle down the page I think it reads Not Well. Must stop. Then as if Foley was making one last determined effort he had written in capital letters: I WAS MISTAKEN - YOU CANNOT STEAL TIME. There were no further entries.

I gulped down the last of my G and T.

My mind was in a whirl. Was Foley serious about the astral plane travel? Had he really spent protracted periods of time engaged in out of body experiences and if so had it somehow led to his untimely death? According to what Dai Jones had told me there was a mystery about his passing, yet the inquest had apparently ruled that the death was due to natural causes.

Publishing Foley’s manuscript in its present form was obviously not an option. It read more like the ravings of a madman than a story. Perhaps if I could devise a rational ending there may yet be a hope of producing something worthwhile. It would not be the first time that someone had completed a part finished book after the original author had died. I determined that I must get to the bottom of the puzzle. Knowing that the manuscript had to be returned to the bookshop I scanned the pages with my mobile phone app so that I would have a record of the journal. Then I decided to try to discover more by visiting the coroner’s office. A google search informed me that the coroner’s office was in Aberdare, some 40 miles south of Hay-on-Wye. Damn! Too far to get to during the festival. The only way I could manage it was to make a detour at the end of the festival before returning home. It was completely out of my way. Was it worth it, I asked myself. After all, probably nothing would come of it. Yes, I had to find out as much as I could or I would never forgive myself.

Kaylee blushed when I joined her and Derek for breakfast. I had a nagging headache which was no doubt the result of reading the deranged writings of a madman.

“Hello you two, did you sleep well?” I inquired in a distinctly sarcastic tone and instantly regretted it. Kaylee’s blush deepened and Derek nearly choked on his Weetabix. I knew I was being unnecessarily bitchy. No doubt Kaylee and Derek had enjoyed their evening rather more than I had, but that was entirely my fault. I tried to dig myself out of the hole I dug myself into with little success. As soon as they had finished Kaylee and Derek left the table, leaving me to eat my breakfast alone.

I left early for the festival, hoping that a steady walk in the cool morning air might alleviate my headache.

There were just a few people at the marquee when I arrived. I knew I needed to concentrate on the business on hand and make sure that our stand was ready for the day’s trade. We were hoping for a lot of interest in the new Tom Firbrite Book - In a Glass Darkly. I picked up a copy and looked at the dust jacket. The inside flap had a picture of Tom together with a brief biography. I had always thought that Tom Firbrite was an American but according to the dust jacket he was, in fact, British by birth but had migrated to the US several years ago. The picture was that of a clean-cut, dark haired young man with a film star smile.

Although it was my job to promote the book, I confess that it was not to my taste, although I kept my opinion to myself for obvious reasons. In a Glass Darkly is a kind of an adult fairy-tale after the style of Lewis Carrol’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, but with very dark themes. Firbrite, writing in first person, explores a dark world that he discovers at the other side of a mirror he buys from an antique shop. Some of the imagery made my hair stand on end.

I carefully placed the book back into its place in the display then I took a few minutes out to contact the coroner’s office. My phone call was answered by a Mr Jones (yes, another one - you can’t go far in Wales before bumping into a Jones). Mr Jones introduced himself as the coroner’s clerk and agreed to see me on my way home.

I was replacing my phone in my satchel when a voice close by but behind me started me. “Is Mr Longhurst here?”

I turned around to see a middle-aged man with stooping round shoulders and thin greying hair looking at me through round wire rimmed spectacles. The spectacle lenses were thick glass like the bottoms of jam jars. “Mr Longhurst? I stammered. “Oh, you mean Derek. Derek, I mean Mr Longhurst will be here shortly. We, er, we aren’t open to the public yet. Mr er?”

“Oh, I’m not public,” the man’s mouth twisted into a thin smile. “I’m Tom Firbrite.”

My mouth opened and closed like a goldfish in a bowl. No sound came out. Luckily just at that moment Derek breezed into the marquee.

“Oh, here’s Mr Longhurst now. Derek, this is Mr Firbrite. Mr Tom Firbrite.”

For a moment Derek looked almost as startled as me, but he soon regained his composure. I could only hope that the myopic Mr Firbrite had not registered our surprise. I could only assume that the picture of Tom Firbrite on the dust jacket had either been taken a hundred years ago or imaginatively photoshopped. Derek showed Tom to the table that had been reserved for the book signing. Tom sat in a chair, pulled it up the table and took a fountain pen from his inside jacket pocket and tested the height of the table with a couple of practise signatures on a pad. Mr Firbrite, evidently satisfied with his book signing station, grunted his approval. “Just one thing,” Firbrite looked up at Derek. “I’ve got something in my car to finish things off. Can you give me a hand?”

“Of course,” agreed Derek. Off they went and returned a little later carrying a heavy mahogany framed cheval mirror. The sort of thing that might have had pride of place in a Victorian dressing room. As they set the mirror up to one side of the desk I could see the mirror was well past it’s best. The glass was badly foxed, giving the glass a misty appearance. The mahogany frame was scratched and stained. It was not an attractive piece of furniture. I could see why Tom Firbrite had brought it. The mirror exactly fitted the description of the mirror that featured in his book “In a Glass Darkly.” I shuddered at the memory it evoked. The characters in the book are tempted to enter the world that exists behind the glass, a world of a thousand delights. It is a place of unbridled hedonism where every craving can be satisfied. But there is a price to be paid. A price that is levied upon everyone who passes through the glass. Anything pure is corrupted, beauty is made ugly and good becomes evil.

As I looked at the mirror I fancied that the surface of glass was wavering. A trick of the light on the foxed mirror, assisted by imagination?

“What did you think of my book ... er I didn’t catch your name.” Tom Firbrite was staring at me through the thick lenses of his glasses. His milky pale blue eyes were magnified by the strong Prescription. I suppressed a shudder.

“My name is Theresa. My friends call me Terry.” I could have bit my tongue off, realising too late the trap I had set myself.

“Then I shall call you Terry and you will call me Tom. I am sure we will be very good friends.” Tom Firbrite leered.

Fuck! I needed him as a friend like I needed a hole in the head. I know I was being irrational, he might be a great bloke, but somehow, he just gave me the collywobbles. I just felt like retching. To my surprise we sold a lot of books and Tom Firbrite was kept busy signing them with his vintage Waterman fountain pen.

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