Illustration by Rolli

Something was missing from my life.

It was gin.

The cashier put the gin in the bag. She tried putting something else into it.

“Wait—what’s that? ” I said. “I didn’t buy that.”

“Oh, this? This is my book.”

She handed it to me. Before I could stop her.

The title of the book was Murder Starts with M.

Alice slid the dagger gingerly into Georgina’s back. That was an actual line.

“What do you think? ”

“It’s . . .”

“Were you going to say ‘good’? ”

I nodded.

“Really? Do you really think it’s good? ”

She was trembling pretty bad.

“Sure,” I said.

She cried a little. She looked like she might blow up.

She stuck the book back in the bag.

There was a trashcan outside the liquor store. A hobo was picking through it.

I threw the book in the trashcan. The hobo grabbed it. He opened it.

“A pool of lipstick-red blood spread across the carpet like a swimming pool,” he said.

He closed the book. He threw it back in the trash.

*

I noticed something odd on the bus. I always do.

A smiling guy was breathing pretty heavily. He reached into his jacket pocket.

He pulled out a book. There was a gun on the cover.

“I’m a writer,” he said to the lady beside him.

The woman slid over. She reached into her purse.

“I’m a writer too,” she said, waving a paperback.

The bus driver stood up. He was holding an open book.

“And the waves rolled on and the storm rolled and Miguel rolled over and as he rolled he looked up at the moon shining like a jewel in the crown of a princess rushing out the doors of her palace like a breath from the lips of pink-pure innocence,” he said.

The bus crashed into a bookstore. Luckily, it was empty.

Not everyone survived. The writers that survived started eating the dead ones.

That was the odd part.

*

I was just a few blocks from home. The gin was getting heavy.

I heard screams.

A girl was lying in the street. A bunch of those things were on top of her. Smothering her with books.

All I had on me was the gin.

I drank the gin. I smashed the end off the empty bottle and charged at the things.

They staggered back.

I grabbed the girl’s hand. I lifted her up.

An old guy who looked like Norman Mailer tugged on her purse but she pulled it free.

“Come on,” I said.

We ran to my house.

I locked the door and bolted it.

I passed out.

*

When I woke up, I had a headache. There was a pillow under my head.

I cracked my neck. The fireplace was cracking, too.

The doors and all the windows were boarded up.

“My name’s Madeline,” said the girl, walking into the room with two coffees. Handing me one of them.

“Did you do all this?”

She smiled.

“My dad’s a lumberjack,” she said.

There was a pile of books in the corner.

“Is one of my bookcases missing? ”

She never quit smiling.

“Right,” I said.

It was great coffee. If you can beat it at arm wrestling, it’s not coffee.

“How old are you? ”

“Eighteen,” she said. “This month.”

The front door burst open.

A dozen writers squeezed through it.

We grabbed the nearest things at hand, books.

I tried throwing my least favourite books by my favourite authors. I threw Martin Chuzzlewit and Hocus Pocus. I threw Coriolanus and Sylvie and Bruno and Across the River and Into the Trees.

Before I could stop her, Madeline threw both volumes of my century-old Moroccan leather-bound edition of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. Oh well.

The writers retreated.

I slammed the door. While I held it shut, Madeline hammered the bookshelves back in place.

“That was close,” she said.

“I need a drink,” I said.

*

We slept in shifts. I didn’t sleep. It’s hard falling asleep when hundreds of fingernails are running down book spines.

“Madeline? Are you awake? ”

“It’s my turn to be awake.”

“Did you remember to board up the basement windows?”

“Yes.”

That was a relief.

“Do you think they might come down the chimney?”

“Not with the fire going, no.”

“Madeline?”

“Go back to sleep.”

I must’ve. I dreamed I was trapped in an alley. Those things were closing in. One lunged ahead of the pack.

“Read,” she said, holding out a book. Teen Mummies.

“Who published this? ” I said.

I did,” she said.

I looked through it. It was full of grammatical errors.

“Well? ”

For once in my life, I told the truth.

“Don’t quit your day job,” I said.

Then they all fell on top of me and ate my skin.

*

It was morning. The fire was cracking. I cracked my knuckles.

Madeline was chopping up the kitchen table. I wondered where she’d found the axe.

“I reinforced the doors and windows,” she said. “No one’s getting in—or out.”

She laughed.

I laughed.

I made the coffee this time.

The coffee table was missing, too.

Madeline sat by the fire. Her bright side looked beautiful.

“My lips are so dry,” she said, rooting through her purse for something. I hoped it was gin.

Something fell out of her purse. Into the shadows.

She picked it up.

A paperback.

The Ides of February.

By Madeline Brooks.

I jumped up. The coffee cup crashed on the floor.

I tried prying the boards off the windows, doors.

Madeline licked her finger.

My fingers were bleeding.

“Chapter One,” she said. “The Beginning.”

No, I thought. The End.

Rolli (rollistuff.com; @rolliwrites) is a writer and cartoonist from Regina. His most recent story collection, I Am Currently Working On a Novel, was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and short-listed for the High Plains Book Award. Rolli’s cartoons appear regularly in the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Adbusters, and other popular outlets.

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