Adalka walks through the bookstore, aimlessly poking his way toward the back. He doesn’t want to appear too eager or like he knows what he wants. If he’s not careful, they’ll spot him before he spots it.
Adalka first heard about Skull Cult Tree from his mentor, Trudo. Many people don’t believe the book exists because it’s so rare, and those who say they find a copy generally refuse to talk about it publicly. But Adalka saw a copy at the back of this bookstore, misfiled in the Biology section. He was only here to kill time because he arrived early for an appointment. When he saw the book, he immediately left the store to get cash before coming back, worried that asking the clerk to hold it for him would give away its importance.
The store is a labyrinth of books. The smell of yellowed paper is an assault on his nose, causing equal parts nostalgia and sneezing. The store’s clerk, a robust man with thick glasses, manages to operate as both a cashier and a guard to the store’s adult section—an alcove of old Playboy and Penthouse magazines tucked behind a curtain. He doesn’t bother to lift his head up from a warn copy of Dune either time Adalka enters the store.
Adalka grabs books as he makes his way back to where he found Skull Cult Tree. He picks up a paperback spy novel with a map of Russia and a crosshair on the cover, a self-help book about defining yourself though knitting, and a Civil War history book written from the point of view of a southerner. He holds them all closely to his chest, just a man browsing a store.
By the time Adalka gets to the copy of Skull Cult Tree, he’s holding seven books, two old copies of National Geographic, and a Captain America comic. He picks up Skull Cult Tree—it’s still here!—and makes his way to the counter. The clerk flips through everything, mentally adding up a total using an invisible system. “$23?” He says, as much a question as a statement.
Adalka hands over cash and the clerk slides everything into a reused grocery bag.
Adalka opens the copy of Skull Cult Tree when he gets home. It’s a book he’s heard about for most of his adult life, but he has no idea what it’s about. He begins to read.
Ed. note: the only copy of this story we have is corrupted after this point, but researcher and writer Rebecca Cunning has more information about the book and its origins here so please read this link. While it’s disappointing we don’t have the full text, we think its important and worth sharing regardless.