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Neil Campbell's The Last Bookseller A new short story from acclaimed indie author Neil Campbell

Neil Campbell's The Last Bookseller

A new short story from acclaimed indie author Neil Campbell

by Neil Campbell,
first published: July, 2022

approximate reading time: minutes

Was looking for some other pictures I'd scanned when I found a load of images on the computer of the shop like it used to be. Fucking line of people at the counter in the days before the internet.

The Last Bookseller 

Wandering around the shop today I found this dead rat. Brown fucking bread and stiff as a board all spread-eagled in the fiction section. Shit me up a bit but then I just got the big sweeping brush and swept the cunt into the yard. Not the worse thing I’ve found. Human fucking faeces on the carpet. Someone in the shop had just crouched down and dumped in the TV bit. 

What’s worse than someone crapping on the carpet is these fuckers who come in and wander about in wide eyed wonder, saying it’s an Aladdin’s cave and all that bollocks, and then walk around the shop for an hour talking shite and then smile at you on the way out saying see you next time, after they’ve spent fuck all.

Funny fucking noises come from the roof sometimes. It’s a tin roof sloping down but there’s cats and squirrels and magpies and all sorts scurrying across it. Used to keep me awake but with ale down me I get a solid five hours every night, then wake up and for a split-second wonder where the fuck I am. Gets pitch fucking black in here but there’s all these weird noises all the time and they don’t bother me now. I think the roof expands and contracts and at first I was thinking fuck me there’s ghosts.

It’s pretty cosy in here tonight. I’m upstairs, right in the rafters, with my sleeping bag next to the oil heater. Fucking ace this sleeping bag, was give me by the son of this famous old British climber who’d died in the Himalayas and that. Duck down or whatever you call it. As long as you don’t get it wet it’s toasty as fuck.

The owner of this shop is fucking clueless. Was left to him by his old man and he’s not arsed. He just sends random stuff out on What’s App now and again. There was one time when people would leave us the occasional tip. Anyway, there was always a spare few quid knocking about in the till and we’d spend that on bog rolls and tea bags and washing up liquid and that. Old Richard never bothered but his lad’s a tight bastard, is always on about us cutting costs. 

I was coming back from the garage with a bagful of scran and I had to lock the gates behind me and this car pulls up, the lights blinding, and asks if we’re open. I’m stood there locking the gate in the dark and I should have said, does it look like we’re fucking open? Instead, I just said no, we’re closed for the day but that we’ll be open again at ten in the morning. He didn’t even answer me then, didn’t say thanks or anything, just drove off.

Bloke came in today. Started moaning about the fire exit being blocked and didn’t I remember the fire from before? I said I didn’t and told him not to worry about any fire. Said someone might report it. Anyone fucking does I’ll know who it was won’t I?

There’s all these paintings hanging from the rafters in the shop, the old bloke Richard used to paint them and flog a few and then after a bit it seems nobody bought any anymore but they aren’t bad, you know, realism, nothing abstract or anything. Sometimes after a couple of cans I’ll stare at them pictures and wait for something to appear. I prefer abstract stuff in fairness. Last night the door of this remote Scottish bothy started to open and close but I reckon that was just to do with the ale.

Microwave meals and cans of lager every night take the edge off. The microwave meals aren’t that bad these days either. I worked in this factory years ago and it was all curries, grim as fuck. Had a nice curry just now, tried all curries over the years but a Biryani is the one, you can’t beat them. Not a microwave one, this one was from the takeaway, young lad on a bike from the Balti house calls to tell me he’s here and I go out in the dark and take the padlock off the gate and get the ruby off him. First time he came he shit himself, but I mean they deliver everywhere these days with Deliveroo and Just Eat and that. 

There’s a little fridge in the kitchen for the milk and I have a bowl of Rice Krispies in the morning and then a bit of toast and some proper coffee. They’ve started selling it at the mill around the corner from here and it’s a bit dear but well nice and I’ve got my little grinder for the beans. Today I didn’t bother with lunch and just worked through and had a microwave cottage pie for tea.

Had to go in the brick hut today. The daddy long legs are crazy. There’s a massive web stretching across the ceiling and over a couple of air vents. I had to get a book out from under them and I looked up at all these webs on the ceiling and I counted twelve of the fuckers, none of them moving, spooky as fuck. I got hold of the old brush in there and I poked at one of them with the brush handle and it started whirling around on the web trying to shit me up.

I’m lying in my sleeping bag sometimes and I swear to you I can hear books being moved around on the shelves. Middle of the night and it’s like there’s somebody there, fucking about in the sci-fi section. I think the beer makes me worse in some ways, get paranoid as fuck. Last night I got up out of the sleeping bag and I was wandering about in the dark and I turned the corner and nearly lost my shit when the corner of my eye caught the fucking mannequin. 

I love it when the crows are on the roof. I close my eyes and I could be anywhere in the world, in Scotland maybe, some lonely fucking glen. Mrs never had any interest. She hated the dawn chorus and called them the twatty birds. But I love the fucking crows when they start calling across the rooftops. 

There’s this big mirror suspended from the rafters near the Philosophy bit and last night after a few beers I put all the shop lights on and lay under the mirror looking at myself. Was her leaving just an excuse to get shitfaced on a nightly basis, or was it because I was getting shitfaced on a nightly basis that she left? When you’ve got stuff like this on your mind you don’t need Schopenhaur.

Fucking fire exit here is a joke, to be fair. Someone bought one of the coffee table hardbacks in front of it this morning. The extinguisher got used for some fucking fire years ago and never got replaced. It was put back in its rack on the wall after some scrotes lit rags and stuffed them through the letterbox. 

Couldn’t believe it today, had this cunt come round. He lives on the estate at the back and has a view of the shop and he says he knows I never leave. I say to him what does he want me to do about it? He says he knows the owner and he’s going to tell him. I explain about my barney with the Mrs and how she fucked off and how I couldn’t pay the rent on my own and the twat wasn’t even listening. This is the kind of country we live in now. I asked this cunt what difference does it make if I’m living in the shop or not, what difference does it make to him, and he says well I’m using the electric and it will be costing Richard’s lad money and I told him to keep his fucking nose out. 

Another twat phoned up today and asked for a book from the travel bit so I went and had a look and though most of them look pretty new you look at the dates on them and it’s like 2009 or whatever. Now that seems like yesterday to me but when you’re going somewhere, especially a city, then you want a more up to date one and this fucker was wanting one for Rome and I knew before I even went and looked that we didn’t have any recent ones for Rome because I had the last one a few years back. 2015 it was, Fodor’s guide, mint condition. I had a look at some of the older ones, the Rough Guide one and the Lonely Planet one and I looked at some of the pictures of Rome like the colosseum and St Peter’s and all that and it took me right back there. Probably shouldn’t have been thinking about my honeymoon, not healthy, but I realized I didn’t have any pictures left.

Sold a few books on eBay again today. Decent little side-line that, manager doesn’t even know about it, tops up my wages a treat. Got about five hundred in the bank now. Back in the black, most I’ve ever had. Going to keep saving.   

Near the hotel in Rome there was this nice little Gelato place. I was thinking about that today. We went end of September, still boiling but if you kept in the shade it wasn’t too bad. And we got into this routine of having an air-conditioned siesta in the afternoon and then about five bells we wandered out and down the street to this Gelato place and the girl working there translated all the flavours for us. I had three lots of this ice cream with cream on top and the Mrs had the same and we sat on this little bench outside the Gelato place and by the time we finished, the ice cream would be melting on the pavement. We went back every day and tried all the different flavours and every time we walked past the shop the girl waved.

Pissing down here today. Last day in Rome there was this massive thunderstorm, and we stood there with the shutters open looking out of the hotel and the water fell on all these flowers and plants in the courtyard, the water just dripping from them and there was a breeze coming through the shutters and the sun was going in, was great just these black clouds pouring rain and it was all cool and nice.

Still raining here, been raining about a week now, constant noise on the tin roof. Massive puddles outside, depressing.

Went in the old brick hut again today. Brushed through a bit of web and it pissed me off. It had been pissing me off for a while walking through webs. Anyway today, I got the old sweeping brush and ran it along the ceiling in front of the webs and wiped out all the daddy long legs, swept them all away, swept all the webs away and killed every last one of the fuckers.

Lying in my sleeping bag last night I heard all sorts going off, police cars with their sirens on speeding up and down the main road and then the helicopter kept coming over and for one minute I thought it was going to land in the yard, it felt that close. When I got up this morning, I wasn’t sure if it had been a dream or real and when I looked up the local paper on Twitter to see if they’d done anything about it there was no report of anything happening round here. Funny how you think everything bad that happens is going to be on the news.

Day one of knocking the ale on the head. No more booze for me from now on. But we’ll take it one day at a time. I’m not an alkie or anything, I never have been, but I just want to see if anything changes from it.

After it pissed down in Rome, the Mrs got bit to fuck by the mosquitoes. That’s all she ever said about our honeymoon.

There’s a painting at the top of the stairs which I didn’t see for years and then I started noticing it. One night when I was still on the ale I dreamed about it. It’s not one of Richard’s, it’s a reproduction of a Munch I think it is and it’s this topless woman with dark hair and it’s a beautiful painting, especially when you look in the dark. She was beside me in the dream and I didn’t want to wake from it, it was so warm, and I woke up and that warmth was spreading all over me. 

Great day in the shop today. Bloke in the states wants me to send him scans of this book. We always put clear descriptions of the books on the websites but cunts like this want pictures. I wouldn’t mind but we were only selling the book for four quid. So, I scanned a picture of the front cover, the back cover, the contents page and the index. Need to do this shit all the time and the cunts don’t get back to you. 

Was looking for some other pictures I’d scanned when I found a load of images on the computer of the shop like it used to be. Fucking line of people at the counter in the days before the internet. 

All day long today I waited for the phone to ring, sat looking at the order screens, clicked from one to the other, refreshed them over and over. In the end there was fuck all to do so I finally lit the rags.


Essential Info
Neil Campbell's collection of short stories, Licensed Premises, will be available from Salt in October '22.
Neil Campbell at Outsideleft... Here
Main Image Photo by Ricardo Esquivel

Neil Campbell

Author Neil Campbell is from Manchester in the UK. His next collection of short stories, Licensed Premises, will be published by Salt in October 2022. Previously, Neil published three novels, two collections of flash fiction, two collections of short stories, two poetry chapbooks and a poetry collection. He's prolific.
about Neil Campbell »»

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