Martin pushed open the stiff door of the town library and inhaled deeply. The familiar smell held out its welcoming arms to him and he embraced it eagerly. He found that he could separate the two distinct ingredients of the library's aroma. First, and perhaps the stronger of the two scents, was the musty smell of age weary books, leafed through by a thousand eager hands. This was the smell of history; a musty, dusty, reminiscent nose-tickling smell of time. It was wonderful, and reminded Martin of attics and locked trunks. No matter how much sparkle, new paint and polish the library was given, this smell would not be defeated, and prevailed to welcome visitors. The second part of the smell was the exciting waft of brand new books; virgin territory never before explored. He loved it when 'his' date stamp was the first to blemish the inside cover of a new copy.
Today the library was having an 'out of print' sale, a sort of annual spring clean, a metaphorical throwing out of the age old tomes that had lain on the shelves for a hundred years without being read or borrowed; or several months at least. Old novels that were thumb worn and weary, read so many times that the pages were in danger of disintegrating to dust with just one more page turn. Books on fly tying, lace making, favourite highland walks. Children's books, reference books and books of indeterminate nature, unsold in last year's sale.
He would describe himself as a man of the written word, an avid reader since early childhood. He had developed a deep love and knowledge of period drama, and revelled in the works of Dickens, identified with Edward Gorey, and emulated Poe. At the age of twenty-nine, he could confidently call himself a 'writer.' He wrote freelance for a couple of small newspapers, had columns in several other magazines of small notoriety, and was the proud author of four novels. As yet he was still waiting patiently with his hook baited for 'the big one,' but it wouldn't be long; he could taste it. He had done the groundwork, gone hungry, amassed a shoebox full of rejection slips and gone head to head with countless agents and publishers. He was still hungry and the big one was but words away.
Martin was a deceptive man to look at; a deep thinker hiding in the body of an amiable clown. He looked much younger than his twenty-nine years and could pass for a second-year student attending one of the three sixth-form colleges in the area. Only when you were close enough to study the depth and maturity behind the lovely grey eyes did you get an inkling of a more accurate guess at his age.
He dressed only in black. With the exception of his Calvin Klein underwear, every item of clothing he possessed came from charity shops. Black boots, jeans, t-shirts, waistcoats, always topped with a long black trench coat. Summer or winter, his attire never altered. He wore his coat open and it would flap against his well-made legs, and cling either side of a broad and surprisingly firm chest. He was lucky, in that his build was gained carelessly with complete disregard for physical activity. The only body part he worked out regularly was his brain. Martin stood tall and strong, with chestnut hair that sprang in soft curls flowing down to his mid back and caught at the nape of his neck in a loose pony tail.
Privately, he was a quiet introspective man, losing himself for hours at a time in the lands of his imagination. Socially, he was a loveable fool. Loud and brash, playing to his audience and loving any self-deprecating attention that came his way. Today though, he had what he called his 'ferret head' on, and would spend the next few hours pouring over the unloved and unwanted books, burying his head in box after box of old literature, confident in the hope of finding treasures and bargains a-plenty.
He strode across the polished floor and smirked as his right boot squeaked loudly with every tread. Each person he passed would look up, either irritated or made curious by the pervasive noise, only to be completely disarmed by the wide and charming smile he gave them.
Some two hours later, Martin was lost to time and space. He lived only within the square foot that he occupied; anything beyond had faded from his reality and he was in a blissful world of words and illustration.
That was when he came across the greatest treasure of the day. Buried between an old encyclopaedia and something in Hebrew was the small thin book. He saw it instantly for what it was and grasped at it avariciously. Like a parched man at a desert oasis, he began turning the pages quickly but with reverence. His eyes glinted with pleasure and he couldn't contain a small chuckle of merriment over his find. It was an Edmund Vorey original, first printed in 1936, and it was in excellent condition. Each page had only two sentences of verse with a black line drawing illustration opposite. Martin was delighted. The book was titled "The Man in Black."
Flicking back to the start of the story, he read aloud to himself, but very quietly.
"Journey's end, roaming the land on a
Future traveller, stranger here, mysterious in long black vest."
The page opposite showed a crude drawing of a tall thin man.
"Looking up and face to face, the past
was who he that day met,
He gazed upon what's gone, replaced, but didn't recognise it yet."
This picture showed the man with a pencil-thin hand shielding his eyes.
Martin turned without lowering the book, determined to make his purchase and be on his way so that he could better peruse his stash from the comfort of his armchair back at home. He was so deeply engrossed that he almost collided with a child who had entered the isle from the opposite direction and was gazing at him with the open-eyed curiosity of a teenager.
"Oi, watch out Mister, you nearly `ad me over then."
Martin noticed the boy for the first time. He was lanky and thin, with strawberry blonde hair that fell over his face like an unwashed curtain. Lively blue eyes glittered up at him from beneath the heavy fringe.
"Sorry mate, I didn't see you there. I've just found this really exciting book that's pretty old and very rare."
This was typical of Martin. He would talk to anybody at any time; he didn't notice age, so therefore addressed every child as though they were on a mental level with himself. Kids were drawn to him, and although he professed to not particularly like children, they worshipped the ground he walked on. He would spark conversations with strangers about matters of interest to him, and expect them to hop on the same wave of enthusiasm that he straddled, and enjoy the ride. He threw the child one of his smiles that opened a door of instant camaraderie.
"How old are you kid, and hey, why aren't you at school?"
"I'm fifteen an` school's boring, all them equations `n stuff. I like it in here. I like reading and I'm going to be a writer one day."
Martin saw himself fifteen years earlier.
"Is that right? I bet you do too matey. Yeah, I never used to go to school much either. You know mate, you can learn everything you need to know right here. Who did what to whom, and who was shagging who and when."
The lad laughed, and for want of a bigger audience, Martin decided to stick around for a few minutes and entertain his sole fan.
"Hey! There were two nuns in the bath right? And one says to the other, 'where's the soap?' Get it? 'Where's the soap?'"
The lad looked at him blankly.
"Oh never mind kid, just hang on to it and try it again in a couple of years, it's a killer."
"You aren't from around here are you?" the boy asked Martin.
It struck Martin that the lad was a funny kid, pensive and thoughtful, older than his years. Martin lived only two minutes up the road, but felt a million miles away from the experiences of a fifteen-year-old.
"That's right kid," he said enigmatically, "I'm from another time and place, a whole different bloody lifetime."
The child's eyes widened. "I'm not surprised, I knew you were different."
Martin smirked at the lad. "You don't know the half of it mate."
They chatted for another five minutes or so and then Martin grew bored of the conversation. The book had grown warm in his palm and he was itching to get back home to read it. "Anyway, nice meeting you kid, see you round sometime."
He paid for the books that he had bought and was thrilled that his 'special' book had only cost him fifty pence. On the way home he smiled at everyone he passed. Today was a good day.
Some months later, Martin rose to a morning of strong sunlight and enthusiastic birdsong. It was a feel-good day. The town was holding a 'country fair' this afternoon and he thought he might wander along, take in the river for an hour, have some lunch and then see if there were any bargains to be had. Most of the stalls would be filled with overly priced hand-crafted goods, but he might pick up something interesting, and if not it was something to do. Some of the traditional crafts they exhibited at the fair were really interesting and gave him useful insight into the 'olde ways' for his books.
After dining on an excellent Ploughman's lunch and partaking of a nice Merlot, Martin felt in extremely buoyant mood. He mulled through the crowds at the fair saying "good afternoon," and browsing the stalls. The stallholders initially loved him because he was full of interest and asked pertinent questions, but they frowned after him when, after doing their best to sell their wares, he walked away with a jaunty "that's fascinating, thank-you for your time."
He watched the judging of the dray horses in all their finery. Big sturdy Shires and Clydesdales that snorted twin plumes of steam from their nostrils like mythical dragons. He bought a black cotton scarf and a piece of homemade gingerbread for his afternoon tea. Martin was just thinking about making his way home when a child in the crowd caught his eye.
"Hey kid! How're you doin`? Remember me? We met in the library one day. You're going to be the next Steve King, right?"
The lad's face brightened in recognition and again they passed a pleasant few minutes. On the way home, 'quaint' was the word that kept coming back to Martin when he thought about the serious young lad.
That night the young Edmund Vorey sat at his writing desk. He wanted to write and only had a little while left before the light from his candle was gone; it had almost burned down to the saucer it stood on. His mother only allowed him two candles a week.
Edmund dipped his quill and began with the date, "6th July in the year 19 hundred and thirty-five."
And then he continued, tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth as he wrote in deep concentration, his thick blonde hair falling over his eyes.
"He appeared at the country fair. The
travelling man in black,
Came here from the future, then vanished slowly back."
Martin munched on the moist gingerbread and flicked idly through the Vorey book for the ninetieth time; it always made him smile. As he read, his brow furrowed and a kid with tousled hair came into his mind. He read the familiar words and they held new meaning.
"He appeared at the country fair, the travelling man in black."
Feverish with excitement Martin rushed upstairs and booted up his computer. That night he began the 'big one.' The one that made his fortune and took him to the top of the best seller list.
It was entitled "Child of Yesterday."