The Book that Sells Itself

A Parable in Four Parts

Part Four

Welcome back to our tale of the uncanny. We have arrived at the final installment of, “The Book That Sells Itself, a Parable in Four Parts.”

We continue our story as the blind printer’s mute assistant has set off into the world to distribute a fresh batch of The Fruit With No Stone.

I promised answers last week. And a final end to this perplexing mystery. So, let’s get right into things.

 

The printer’s assistant hopes that the old horse is well-trained. He has no experience in driving a contraption such as this. He sits up on the padded bench, reins in hand, and, not knowing what else to do, he stamps his boots on the wooden runner at his feet. From deep in the horse’s chest comes a heavy sound. A grumble of reluctance. But as the beast only knows how to do one thing, it begins to move.

The road out of Torumbra is the same road into Torumbra. Quiet, shady. When the cart arrives at the highway—slightly wider than the smaller road, though just as lonely and untraveled—the printer’s assistant gives a gentle tug to the reins and the horse obediently turns in a southerly direction.

The printer’s assistant has done this before. Taken boxes of books out into the world. Sometimes he takes them to bookstores. Other times he leaves them scattered about, on doorsteps or anonymously placed on the shelves of outhouses. There was even a church where he had placed some in the pocket slots on the back of the pews where hymnals would be expected.

This time he has decided on the simplest course. He heads to a bookshop in a bustling market town. The Gathered Leaves Books and Sandwiches is run by a sweet lady who always gives him a whole rhubarb pie. If the old horse keeps this pace, he is convinced he will be eating pie by tomorrow afternoon. He hopes she also has ice cream.

The woman at the Gathered Leaves calls him by name. Isaac. It is stitched on his work apron. Jacob had given to him—the apron and the name. Though Isaac assumes that the name was already on the apron when he arrived at Jacob’s shop all those years ago when he was still a boy. He can barely remember that day when he placed the parcel containing the manuscript of The Fruit With No Stone upon Jacob’s counter.

Isaac has another name, of course. The one his mother gave him. But that was so long ago, and, because he was just a child, no one should blame him that he has forgotten it. As for his mother, well, if Isaac tries, he can conjure up a faint image of her angelic face and sad eyes, but nothing else.

After riding for several hours, with the shadows long and the sun soon to set, Isaac comes to a crossroads. From back in a grove of spindly sycamores he hears the sound of voices. Isaac prefers to camp alone on his journeys, but the horse has a different preference, so off they roll down a narrow dirt path toward a sort of provisional shanty town.

Everywhere are tables selling food and drink. There are games of chance being played. And from a shaded clearing a fiddle band makes a screeching racket for a group of drunken dancers.

The horse has changed its mind, and the wagon continues through the settlement. Isaac ignores the portly bearded fellow shouting out to him the virtues of “the best ’shine in the territory, aged a full three months.”

Isaac allows the horse to plod ahead into a dusty clearing carpeted with windwitch and nettle. The clamor of the crowd is lost to the drone of the cicadas.

As chance would have it, they soon encounter another encampment. This one, however, is more welcoming, quiet and sheltered beneath towering hickory trees.

Isaac sees no one about, so he assumes they must be inside the enormous tent. Above its entrance hangs a banner just barely visible in the growing twilight.

Isaac cannot read the words, but I’ll tell you what they say.

Swami Alabama Brocade, Guru of the Glade.

Ah, you remember! Our short and spirited friend from the auction.

The words on the sign might be relevant to us, but even if someone were to read them aloud to Isaac, they would mean nothing. He knows nothing of a man named Alabama. However, Isaac understands the nature of such tents as these: the large flaps pulled open to invite all; the white canvas kept immaculate with bristle brushes and bleach. It is a tent of revival meetings. And though such high-minded spiritual folks have little to offer Isaac, he is certain he will prefer them to the carousers he left behind.

The horse seems to agree, for the wagon comes to a halt.

Just then people file out of the tent with faces radiating joy. They happily hand over their coins and bills to a pale woman who holds out a basket for the offerings.

“Good evening, stranger,” the pale woman says, as she approaches Isaac. “You’ve missed the afternoon liturgy. Please join us for supper over at the campfire. And, later, you can enjoy our vespers service in the tabernacle.”

As Isaac climbs down from his perch on the cart, he is startled by a cry from the entrance of the tent.

“Sweet biscuits and gravy!”

The pale woman smiles as she turns to watch a small and enthusiastic man rush forward.

“Brother Alabama,” she says, “I’m heartened to see that your spirits have lifted.”

“I know this wagon!” Swami Alabama Brocade says with intense excitement. “And the horse.” He looks to Isaac. “Is Leighton with you?”

Isaac assumes he means the previous owner. He shakes his head.

“No matter,” says Alabama, quieter now. “It’s probably too much to hope for,”he mutters as he rummages in the back of the cart. “Amazing!” he shouts finding the chest of books. “I was sure he would have sold them all.”

Alabama catches his breath. After he motions the woman away, he looks around, and satisfied no one is in earshot, speaks quietly to Isaac. “I am not in the habit of yelping like a ‘coon dog squatting on a thistle, but today couldn’t have come soon enough. I don’t know what our mutual friend has told you, but this book is capable of changing a person. Profoundly. Magically! It transformed me, let me tell you! But to translate that insight to my flock, well, it’s not making the trip from my tongue to the innards of their brains.”

Not waiting for Isaac’s response—or, more likely, his lack of a response—the Guru of the Glade fashions a megaphone with his cupped hands.

“Brethren!” he bellows. “Sistren!”

The group around the campfire turn. They watch with curiosity as their leader  pulls a large wooden chest off the wagon and drags it toward them.

Isaac follows, uncertain if he should help.

“A great day has arrived,” Swami Alabama intones. He places a foot atop the chest of books. “I have wrestled for months trying to convey to all of you the intricacies of the wisdom in my mind. But all of those ideas have remained trapped in my head. Locked away. It is like that old folktale of the Squirrel and the Coconut, I have struggled mightily to open up the biggest nut in the land. I share the same desire of that wily critter who only wanted to feed his family. Though, of course, my family—my Spiritual Family—hungers for the nourishment of the Divine Light of Wisdom and Grace. But I could not break open that nut! I have failed and failed. You may recall that the squirrel tried his teeth, first. What a sad and comical sight it must have been. When that didn’t work, he tried dropping it upon a rock from the highest tree in the forest. That was no better. But then he found the chainsaw. Ha! The squirrel had finally found the right tool for the job. And I too have found my tool.”

In a theatrically fluid movement the Swami leans down, lifts up the lid of the wooden chest, and he pulls out one of the copies of The Fruit With No Stone. He holds it aloft.

The crowd remains silent, all attention now focused on the book.

Alabama Brocade continues.

“A dear friend of mine has sent this young man to us with a gift. A wonderful gift. A book. THE book!” Alabama pauses to allow his flock their collected gasp of amazement. “Dozens of copies, in fact! Finally, I will be able to make all of you see what I see! After supper, I’ll read aloud to those who wish to stay. For now, my beloved congregation, eat!”

A feverish whisper spreads through the crowd.

“The Book! The Book!”

Isaac is initially pleased to have so quickly found a place to deliver his box of books. Then he thinks of the rhubarb pie. But surely this man of wisdom and light needs only one copy of the book. He crouches down and moves silently towards the fire. When the time is right, he’ll retrive the chest of books and sneak away. Alabama Brocade can’t stand there all night with his boot up on the wooden box.

“I see you down there,” Alabama says, noticing Isaac. He holds out his hand. “Stand up, my silent friend.”

Isaac does so.

“I have a plan.” Alabama keeps his voice low. “And I'll cut you in on the money.” Alabama cocks his head and, for a moment, angles his eyes toward the heavens as though seeing his plan settle into its final shape. He inhales deeply and turns his eyes—now burning with conviction—back to Isaac. Keeping his voice in a conspiratorial whisper, he brings to his words the same elevated and excited animation with which he delivers his sermons. “It is a wonderful thing, a book. Whether constructed of papyrus, vellum, or sewn pages, it is an almost limitless resource. A font of information and knowledge to be passed from reader to reader thousands of times.” He leans closer to Isaac. “But not this book. Think of it as a cow that only gives milk once. But such milk! The milk beyond dreams, even! The first part of my plan—our plan—is to awaken their souls.” Alabama hooks this thumb over his shoulder to indicate his followers. “But here’s the catch. An awakened soul is a lonely soul. I know this to be true, oh do I indeed! There rises up a hunger to awaken others. So, if after hearing the words I will read to them, they feel a compulsion to spread the good word—to become just like me, right?—well, then each one will have to pay for a copy.”

For as far back as his memory can reach, Isaac only knew of the book—this book—as a repository of truth. Its words should put the reader onto a path of selfless charity. How could someone who has been touched by The Fruit With No Stone have turned out so pathetic? So mercenary?

Swami Alabama Brocade places a hand on Isaac’s shoulder and whispers into his ear.

“We have more books than customers—I mean parishioners. Do me a favor. It will help you as well. There’s a shabby little settlement at the crossroads. You probably rode through it earlier. Go. And bring back a crowd!”

Isaac looks down at the chest of books. And then he heads away into the darkness.

 

Not half an hour later, Isaac returns. Not with an excited crowd. No. The only thing he has brought with him is a gallon jug of three-month-aged moonshine. He walks into the light from the campfire and, with a well-placed kick, sends the chest of books into the flames. Before anyone can react, Isaac lobs the jug into the fire as well.

The explosive whoosh is followed by the screaming of the Swami’s followers. In all the commotion no one notices as Isaac disappears back into the darkness, never to be seen again by the Swami or his flock.

You might be wondering where did he go? Did he continued on to the Gathered Leaves for pie? Did he return to the printshop? Maybe he journeyed to his place of origin—to the backside of the hill beyond the hill.

It will remain a mystery, as this is not the story of Isaac, the printer’s assistant.

This brings us, apparently, to the end of the story. That means that the clever ones will be thinking that this is my story because they remember at the very beginning when I said that I have a copy of The Fruit With No Stone. It’s so obvious, I must have been there that night and rescued one of the books from the fire.

Right?

Wrong.

But, I bought my book from a man who was.

The portly moonshiner. He followed Isaac because no one buys that much liquor without planning a party somewhere back in the woods.

It was not a party, the moonshiner learned.

It was chaos.

When the jug of ‘shine smashed and covered the books with a pulsating ball of liquid fire, those people in the woods when crazy. They jumped into the campfire. They savagely fought over the burning books. Knives plunged into flesh. Stones smashed open heads. The moonshiner watched frozen in terror. When the flames and the passion had all been spent, one book remained intact, clutched in the burnt hands of Swami Alabama Brocade, Guru of the Glade.

“Take it stranger,” the pathetic little man pleaded to the moonshiner. “Take it and destroy it. Woe upon us all!”

He did so, the humble moonshiner. He took that book. But he did not destroy it. He kept it for years before selling it to me. I didn’t ask the fellow why he never read the book. Fear, probably. Not that it matters. This certainly is not the story of an unnamed operator of an unlicensed distillery.

It’s a story, of course, about the book itself. It’s in the title.

The Book the Sells Itself.

You now know so much about it. You know it’s name. You even know its history. But do you know it’s contents? Well, you have hints. Speculations.

Let’s put that all to rest.

Let’s read the book. Together.

But first, realized the price I am paying to satisfy your curiosity.

Once read, this book will no longer be desirable. It will be an empty husk. Like a rare vintage wine, once you’ve drunk down to the dregs, no one cares about the spent bottle, now irrelevant. Worthless.

So, make yourselves comfortable. Turn your ears in the direction of my voice. Be attentive. Be receptive.

There will not be a second chance at this.

The Fruit With No Stone.

 

[Sound of a page turning, followed by static, garbled gibberish, and, finally, silence.]

 

[An official voice intones: You have been listening to WPTC, tune in tomorrow at 5am when we resume our regular broadcast.”]

 

[Sound of 1kHz sine wave.]

 

[Silence.]

 

 

Erik Bosse

Erik Bosse is a New Orleans-based writer, filmmaker, and creative collaborator. His short stories have appeared in many literary journals. In the summer of 2023 his novel, Tales of Lost Southtown, will be published by FlowerSong Press. Much of Erik’s work can be seen on his website, www.erikbosse.com. Erik recommends URBAN-15.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 22:08