Books, rows and rows of books line the walls of the high ceilinged room.
They cover all four walls with not an inch to spare.
They continue around and above the only door and the two windows and are arranged by size.
Hardcover books without exception.
Mostly with thick spines, at least 500 pages or more.
And all appear to’ve been read.
The only furniture in the room is an overstuffed leather chair, a side table that matches the height of the armrest exactly and a goose necked reading lamp.
A lit candle, a steaming teapot and a mug are arranged next to a milk jar and a plate of cookies on the side table.
The thick dark red curtains are half drawn and partly hide the rain streaked windows and the full moon that brightens the huge lawn stretching to the end of the property.
A man is sitting in the chair. His head leans back at an almost impossible angle facing the ceiling. Eyes open, unblinking and mouth slightly ajar he sits motionless.
Not a sound is heard.
No draft stirres the air. The candle flame is straight and calm.
The room is in absolute silence.
‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long!’
Barri’s head snaps back as he looks down, fumbling in his right jacket pocket to get his smartphone.
He wipes a bit of drool from the corner of his mouth and answers with a short, ‘Yep?’
‘Been admiring the view again, Barri?’
‘What’s this to you, Anders? Got a reason to call?’
‘Indeed, I have. Guess who’s coming to dinner tonight?’
‘I’m not in the mood for guessing games, spit it out!’
‘Uh oh, someone’s in a cranky mood. Gunilla is in town! I just met her at the town square.’
‘Gunilla. Well, well, that is unexpected. Didn’t she swear to never set foot in this town ever again after the incident?’
‘And she did, brother. That shows again how fickle women are.’
‘Spare me your chauvinistic BS. Are you cooking?’
‘Is the Pope catholic? Been shopping since she left to freshen up in her hotel. Be with you in 20 minutes. You get the wine ready – white, red and bubbly, the usual but the best, you know.’
‘Going down the cellar stairs as you speak. See you in a jiffy!’
‘Man, that’s a woman’s expression.’
With a groan Anders cuts the connection.
‘Gets him every time’, Barri grins and heads for the wine cellar.
He is a real connoisseur and loves to choose the bottles and prepare the wine when guests are coming.
The cellar is at the far end of the manor house he and his brother Anders live in. It is built directly into the granite that their house is built on and is cool throughout the year with no temperature fluctuation.
As he switches on the light he takes a deep breath. He loves the cool and slightly fruity smell this round ceilinged room has.
The only drawback is that it is constantly flooded and so he gingerly steps from crate to crate that floats in the water but settle when he puts his weight on.
He’s getting two bottles of red, white and champagne, leaving the champagne on the bottom step to collect later.
As he gets back up and into the corridor he sees a fleeting shadow from the corner of his eye.
‘What? Is it you Anders, are you back already?’
‘Strange, must’ve imagined it.’
Suddenly Barri does not enjoy the silence any more, in fact he feels a little uneasy.
Quickly he takes the wine into the kitchen, switching on all the lights as he goes.
In the kitchen he turns on the small TV that sits on the counter.
‘Police currently cannot say where the escaped creature is heading to. The public is advised to keep windows and doors locked at all times. This is Josephina Carlson of SVT reporting life from Fnaskberget.’
Barri had only listened with half an ear but when he heard his town’s name mentioned he turned to the TV. With a final sweep over Fnaskberget’s town square the short news report ends.
He hears Anders’ car coming to a stop at the entrance.
Looking out the kitchen window he watches his brother as he struggles with two huge shopping bags and hurries to meet him in the hallway.
‘Hey, Anders, did you see SVT broadcasting at the town square?’
‘Yes, I did, but didn’t pay attention. What’s it all about?’
‘Not sure myself, something about a creature loose in our beautiful town.’
‘Ah, never mind that, let’s get dinner rolling.’
For the next hour the brothers are busy with their dinner preparations for Gunilla who arrives on the dot at 8pm.
‘Heya, Anders! Good to see ya, Barri!’
Gunilla breezes in with her usual energy and overwhelming waft of Poison, her favourite perfume.
‘I am famished, didn’t eat all afternoon just to make room for something tasty from your kitchen Anders.’
‘You won’t be disappointed, Gunilla. Come in and make yourself comfy in the living room.’
Anders takes her coat and carries it into the cloakroom.
As he puts it on a hanger the hair on his neck stand on end all of a sudden and he turns around quickly.
He has a feeling as if something is watching him. And it is not a friendly something. But nothing is out of the ordinary. The cloakroom is as always. Anders quickly leaves and closes the door firmly.
Barri and Gunilla have settled on the huge sofa that faces the fireplace and are sipping martinis.
‘God, I hate this time of year when it gets dark so early!’ Gunilla sighs, ‘and with this strange creature around doesn’t help.’
‘Do you know anything about it?’ Barri asks.
‘Well, all I know is that it is something between a rumour and a fact. Fact is that three people have been found horribly mutilated within these past three weeks. Murdered with not a clue as to who the murderer was.
Curiously enough they do have one thing in common: they all were attacked while they were reading books.’
‘Maybe by an illiterate book hater?’ Anders grins and takes a sip of his martini.
‘Or a Kindle aficionado’, adds Barri.
‘What’s the rumour then?’ Anders eyebrows go up.
‘Word goes around that it is neither human nor animal, rather some kind of weird mutation.’
Somehow this is not ridiculed by either Barri or Anders.
Both finish their drinks in silence.
‘Brrt’, signals from the kitchen.
‘The shrimp quiche is ready! Have a seat at the table Gunilla.’
Visibly relieved Anders rushes to the kitchen while Barri hold’s Gunilla’s chair.
‘Always the gentleman!’
‘A lovely task for such a lovely lady!’ Barri, too, appears to be at ease again.
With the odd apprehensive atmosphere dissolved dinner proceeds with the usual familiarity between these friends who’ve known each other since their school days.
‘Champagne should be dry, chilled and free!’ Gunilla proposes and holds her flute high to salute Barri and Anders. ‘What a wonderful meal and what a wonderful evening!’
‘Same here!’ Barri and Anders raise their glasses in return.
‘Glad you came back to Fnaskberget!’
‘You’re right! Why should a nasty break up keep me from being true to my hometown? Just don’t want to run into Linus while here.’
‘Understandably, but never mind him.’
‘If you like you can stay here overnight, the guest room is always ready for you.’
‘Thanks for the offer, boys, but I rather have some time to myself now, would you call me a taxi?’
‘We can do better than this, Anders will take you back, right, brother?’
‘Sure, no problemo.’
Ten minutes later Gunilla and Anders are heading back to the city center while Barri quickly filles the dish washer and tidies up.
‘And now, for a great finale to an already great evening: a cognac and final look at my favourite painting.’
With a snifter in his hand Barri settles into his easy chair in the book lined study. His gaze goes up. There on the ceiling is his favourite painting of Monet’s Woman with a Parasol. His latest acquisition from a private collector and put there so only those Barri wants to share this pleasure with can see it.
As he takes in the beautiful impressionist work his gaze is distracted.
There on the top book shelf nearest to him clings a longish creature staring down at him, open-mouthed with knife like fangs.
Slowly it curles up like a spring before leaping right at him.
The bookworm strikes again.