I shook off the biting cold, my boots pelting the wood floor with snow. More fell from my hood, which was apparently useless in keeping my hair dry. Clumsily, I pulled sloppy, black strands from my cheeks with mittened hands. The string of bells on the door caught on my sleeve, jingling long enough to make me awkwardly laugh to myself. Definitely, I was beyond loud, irritating the comfortable world around me that was the best book store in history. Birch Tree Books had been my go-to place since awkward teenagerism. It was the cable knit sweater that, today, literally melted the winter off of me. I loved the battered wood floor that had never seen a coat of polish and creaked underfoot like it remembered every time I had visited. It had the same character that the mess of shelves had, and the used, dusty books that lived on them. Some of these books had been on the yard sale shelves and in the hodge-podge piles for so long that they had become landmarks to navigate the shop by.
Finally gaining some composure after braving the Ossipee wind and snow, I put my head up to take in my happy place before I started browsing. Right away, I noticed that theformerly broken Birch Tree Books sign that had been collecting dust behind the door had been re-purposed into a table with freshly carved legs supporting it. Nothing was on the surface, giving away its newness to this place, where every flat surface held books. I looked to the checkout counter to see which of the three familiar introverts was holed up, hiding there today, but the little stool sat empty.
Making an involuntary sound of surprise under my breath, I headed for the poorly organized Sci Fi/Horror section. I always managed to find something to read there. Something about wooded New England towns created a large turnover of horror and science fiction. Thank you, Steven King. Bumping into woman in Romance, I tried not to knock anything or anyone over with my super bulky coat or general clutziness. I let out a breath as I took in the first shelf of paperbacks, and pulled a creased binding down.
Then, the intoxicating scent of warm brownies and peppermint washed over me, sending chills down my spine and leaving me in an inexplicable fog. Nobody had made brownies at a book store…the scent was just in the air somehow. I inhaled deeply and shyly stole a glance at Romance Novel Lady, but she clearly hadn’t noticed anything except me looking at her, sniffing. With an awkward laugh, I put my nose back down into the book, a Simon R. Green novel.
“You don’t belong here.”
I gasped. The statement was as clear as day–in my mind–totally at odds with the inviting smell around me. And it was in my head. I knew it. The voice was a little harsh…no, surprised. Confused, yet not unpleasant, despite the cruelty of the words. The scent soothed me while the words frightened me, said in a voice I wanted to hear again.
“You don’t belong here.”
I dropped the book, my head snapping up, still wet hair slipping into my mouth. Unsure if the words were an echo in my mind, or said again, I spun wildly around, searching for the source of this impossibility. A very clean-shaven man was eyeing me with concern from the end of the aisle. I felt myself blush, knowing how nuts I was coming across, but unable to mask my confusion.
“Do you smell that?” I asked him stupidly, and a little too loudly. He frowned, slowly shaking his head.
I left the aisle, stumbling over a footstool, making more of a ruckus with every step, and shakily peered into the next row. Books, on shelves, and in stacks, looked back at me, their musty scents briefly cutting through the haze of brownie-peppermint. No people. Even as I thought it, I was confused by the absurdity of the idea. How could a person be the cause of this…whatever this was…that had sent me into a not-so-quiet panic?
“Who are you?!” the same silky voice...in my head…asked. I stopped, dead still, breathing hard and heavy in my fear, but propelled by that unbelievable scent.
I continued to the next aisle, becoming heady with the now overpowering deliciousness and my own panic. I had been holding my breath in, and forced it out, getting the attention of a blonde woman and her little girl.
“You don’t belong here.” Again, stronger this time, no uncertainty, but not threatening, just stating something I needed to know.
A gasp throttled the tiny scream that escaped me. Whipping around, I backed up, knocking over a stack of hard covers. I could not answer the “Miss? Are you okay?” from the blonde woman, child clinging, frightened, to her leg. I clasped my hands to make them stop shaking.
I raced to the door, heart pounding, the bells on the handle clanging noisily, but not loud enough to drown out those words that followed me out.
“You don’t belong here….”