“My son,” pleaded the blind man, through a scowl. “Edgar, apple of mine eye, dost thou live?”
Victor’s every muscle tensed as leeches crawled on his neck. There was a crack high above, and part of the uppermost shelf collapsed, tipping its books like dominoes onto one another until the final one teetered on the edge of the shelf and then fell. It landed like an axe head, thumping into the floor near Victor and lodging there on an angle, two inches of the book’s corner having sunk into the hardwood. Another book leaned over, right above Victor’s head. Further and further it ventured out from the shelf, then plummeted. The two hundred-page tomahawk tumbled straight at Victor’s face and at the last moment he rolled out of the way; the book, though a thin volume, landed like an anvil and surely would have crushed his skull. His evasive action was limited, but the blind man heard it.
“There you are. Happy few!”
Victor rolled toward the blind man, beneath a low barrage of gunfire. The fire ceased after a second or two and Victor crawled to an adjacent wall.
“Thou piece of crap!” cried the blind man, his elocution losing a little of its grandeur. He struggled with the action of his weapon. “How many times shall this gun jammeth?” He struck it three times hard with his palm. “Useless bloody—” The gun clicked into order with another hit. “Ah, there we go.”
The blind man cackled, and sprayed a torrent of ammunition back and forth across the shelves as if he were hosing a garden.
A stack of books toppled and fell around Victor. He yelped and tried to dodge them as they slammed into the floor like guillotine blades. A book about the Battle of Trafalgar landed on Victor’s sleeve and pinned it to the floor. He grunted as he tried to yank free. The blind man turned with a sadistic grin.
“Wait,” said Victor. “Please, I’m just a metronome salesman. Don’t do this.”
“Fear not, Edgar,” said the blind man. “With thy life shalt thou atone for thy sins.” He raised his gun and aimed it at Victor. “Good-bye, my son.”
“Wait, stop!” said Victor, his begging becoming a desperate demand.
As he thrashed about trying to loose himself from his robe, a small book thumped down in front of him, its edge cutting so deep into the floor that only half the book protruded above, like a little green shark fin jutting from a timber sea. On its faded cover Victor could make out the title in elaborate gold lettering: The Emperor’s New Clothes.
“Wait!” he shrieked. “I can restore your sight!”
The blind man halted; the sinister look on his face melted until he appeared simply aged and weary. His trembling forefinger retreated from the trigger and he lowered the gun.
“Is this… Is this true, Edgar? Canst thou bring light to my continual shadow?”
“Yes,” Victor gasped. He kicked at the book that nailed his sleeve to the floor but it was immovable. “Yes, I can help you see again. I just need to get my arm free.”
With a wave of the blind man’s hand the book that was lodged in Victor’s sleeve uprooted itself and fluttered back up to its shelf; the leeches burrowed into the floor and disappeared. Victor tore the blankets from his arms and shoulders then stripped off his padded toga. He sat on the floor, panting, wearing only his trousers, shoes and a pair Ray-Bans.
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