It was a slow day at the antiques shop. Billobi walked over to the window, smiled at the sun, and returned to the counter. He picked up a stone, turned it over and put it down again. He then returned to the window and repeated the procedure a couple of times.
"Stop it", Thomas mumbled from the counter. "Please."
"I'm bored", Billobi said and picked up the stone again.
"Get a job then."
"I already have one."
"Then write something."
"About what? Nothing exciting ever happens."
"Make something up."
"No, that goes against my work ethics."
"Yes, I forgot you work for the Inquisitive. Very high standard there, how could I ever forget..."
Thomas dodged Billobi's swing and walked over to one of the many bookshelves. He pulled out a thick, brown book and carried it back to the counter. He placed it in front of Billobi with a large thump.
"Oh, please. Why do you even keep this? It wasn't even useful in school. I mean, it's large as a house and still the title barely fits on the front: 'The Complete Syntax of the Proper Spoken Word of Grammar Magic and How To Pronounce, Use and Apply It in the Everyday'. I've had enough experience with grammar magic to last for two life times."
"It's not mine", Thomas said and opened the large book at random. A page with the header The Inconvenience of Fractions turned up. "A gentleman sold it to me yesterday."
"Well, if you bought it, it's yours."
"I mean it's not the one I had in school. But it doesn't matter. What's more interesting is this: the gentleman who sold it to me was none other than Mr Hagberg himself."
"The author! C. A. Hagberg!"
"So? Did he sign it?"
"He's been dead for the last fifteen years!"
"Someone's playing a trick on you, my dear Thomas", Billobi said and closed the book. "I've seen a lot of things, but dry academics that return from their final crawl and walk the earth again isn't one of them."
"You know that awful picture in the beginning of the book? Of the author?"
"The one with the long hair and monocle? I remember Tristan drawing a moustache on his."
"The gentleman who sold me the book looked exactly like that."
"That doesn't prove anything. If I grow long hair and start wearing a monocle, does that make me the author of this awful book?"
Thomas picked up the book and returned it to the bookshelf again. He returned to the counter and said with a low voice: "My dear Bill, I'm not saying this to give you something to write about. I'm telling you this because I had this...chill running through my spine after he left. Something isn't right. Find him, and see for yourself. He had the latest issue of Horsehead Hoary under his arm, so I guess he's staying at the inn."
Billobi sighed, and said: "I'll do it just to prove you wrong. See you in a bit."
The inn was only a short walk away from Thomas' shop, much as everything else in Horsehead. As he entered the establishment, his eyes were immediately drawn to a pale figure at the counter. Whoever it was, he had long hair and was reading a book. Billobi felt pretty certain that he too was in on the joke now, and cursed his brother-in-law as he walked up to the counter.
Always the reporter, Billobi pulled up his notebook and a pen, turned to the man and said: "Dear Sir, I'm a reporter for the Badgerbrough Inquisitive. We're currently doing a Horsehead special and I was wondering if I may ask you some questions?"
The man put down his book and looked Billobi right in the eyes. This is obviously a joke, Billobi thought as he watched the man in front of him take out his monocle. He resembled the author in every possible way.
"My dear reporter", the man said with a low voice, "you shouldn't be talking to me."
"Really, now?" Billobi said and pretended to take notes. "And why is that?"
The man returned to his book again, and took his time to adjusting the monocle. Without looking up, he said: "Have you travelled the world, reporter? Been to many places?"
"Some, yes. Never crossed the eastern sea though."
"Ever been to Skiff-in-Loch? The treeless island to the far west? Ever travelled there, reporter? Ever been to the furthest and most desolated place on the western shore?"
Billobi felt his heart skip a beat, and he felt his grip around his notebook loosen. "Maybe."
"I have. I met a little girl there. Can't say I enjoyed the talk, even if it was certainly fascinating. Ever met her, reporter?"
Billobi shook his head.
"That's strange, because she had a message to you. Do you want to hear it? It goes: 'Start running, Billobi Rustfoot. The Grinding has begun.'"
(To be continued.)
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