Author : Jason Frank
Satisfied that the “open” side of his small sign was indeed facing outward, Harrison parted the dusty blinds and nervously looked outside. The once crowded downtown sidewalks were empty, as they had been since the Tald-Mart had opened outside of town. The resulting drop off in browsing walk-ins to his small book shop was directly responsible for today’s scheduled visitor, whose eventual presence was directly responsible for Harrison’s current unease.
Harrison had not yet had the opportunity to meet a Taldunian in person. He was quite certain, however, that it was the magnitude of today’s sale that had him on edge and not the species of the buyer. Surely his lifelong immersion in the great works of literature had inculcated Harrison against any sentiments as base as xenophobia. Of course, one’s distaste for another’s actions could exist without an underlying, irrational fear. Harrison had always imagined that whatever alien civilization first contacted the Earth would bring either conquest or enlightenment. He never envisioned their intent of selling a variety of technologically advanced toiletries at ridiculously low rates. There was more than enough crass commercialism on the planet already.
Then again, if one of these interstellar merchants now was interested in purchasing a great work of literature in its first edition, perhaps Harrison had been wrong about them. Perhaps they were no different than any other immigrant group, seeing to their material needs before concerning themselves with matters of taste and refinement.
Harrison turned away from his front window and began walking back to his habitual perch behind the cash register. He had only taken a few steps before the dull chime of the old bell hung high on the poster plastered front door interrupted him.
“Hello,” Harrison said before he had completely turned around. Seeing the Taldunian at the door, he added, “Might you be the customer I had the pleasure of talking with yesterday?”
“Indeed,” the Taldunian answered, “I am here to purchase the edition we discussed.”
“Yes, I have it here. Would you like to browse a bit before_”
“That is not necessary.”
“Let me get that for you.” Harrison hurried over to the counter and picked up the book in question. He gently unwrapped the fragile copy of Wuthering Heights and offered it to his customer.
“Everything seems to be in order here. Your account has been credited the agreed upon amount.”
Harrison felt that a call to his bank would be perceived as rudeness in this circumstance. Besides, there had not been a single instance of a Taldunian failing to follow through on a financial transaction.
The six figure sum the two parties had discussed would ensure the survival of his small operation for a number of years. Still, Harrison couldn’t help feeling the loss of an heirloom that had been in his family for generations. He had chosen to be a bookseller and so sell books he must.
The Taldunian removed a small vial from his tunic and began to liberally sprinkle its contents on the book. Harrison’s assumption that this was some sort of preservative unknown to himself was quickly corrected as the Taldunian lifted the book to his tentacle encircled mouth and took a bite.
“Hmm, it’s not very good,” the Taldunian said, still chewing. “As you humans say, there is no accounting for taste. Perhaps it will be more to my wife’s liking.” With that, the Taldunian turned and walked out. Harrison’s remained standing for some time silently. His mouth, hung agape, was as dry as a pile of sawdust.