Dime Stories: The Escapist Book Fair

"No chance of rain. Hurry."

There's a rumor in this city, as old as the sewer steam that rises from the vents. The librarians whisper about it during their lunch hours, spearing their walnut and roman salads with silver forks. Derek's heard them talk about the book fair that meets only once a year, a book fair that only invites the dreamers of the city.

Derek thinks that he's earned the right to attend the book fair this year - he's racked up some good karma. On the weekends, Derek shaves, dons his black trench coat, and tracks down abandoned books. He carries a net with him that he uses to catch books, as if they were strays.

"I find most of them in dumpsters," he tells his friends. They back away from him; his clothes smell like rotten eggs.

Sometimes Derek thinks the books are talking to him. They squeak and groan as he puts their spines back together.

On the morning of the book fair, they woke him up by falling off his desk.

"'No chance of rain. Hurry,'" Derek reads. He fingers the telegram that was slipped under his door. The address listed is downtown, not too far from his apartment, but Derek jerkily completes his morning rituals of shaving, eating, and dressing. His heart pounds as he races down the street.

The door fair is in an abandoned lot. The narrow space, caught between two apartment buildings, is stacked with books. Trolleys form makeshift rows, nothing is labeled, and all of the books have unmarked covers. Dereks barely breathes, scared that the entire book fair will fade away like the smoky remains of a snuffed candle.

There are other dreamers at the book fair. Derek sees an artist with a shaved head fingering through a book of photographs. A little girl clutches five books in her arms.

Derek doesn't notice that they all disappear, at some point, the echoes of their smiles imprinting the air.

A mustard yellow book grabs his attention. It hums in his hands. When Derek turns to the first page, he reads the first sentence in his head. It's a story about tropical winds, sandcastle palaces, sword fights.

Before he can even think about closing the book, he falls into the pages, slipping into the ink and merging with the words.