The Truth About Climbing tree Books
We had an idea to print a catalogue once, and this was put forward as the body text, to run around the books and their details. It's too long, and it doesn't exactly get to the essential truth of anything, but it certainly beats having to write a predictable blah about how clever we are as publishers.
Climbing Tree Books is part of a sinister mind-control experiment run by an un-named UK government agency. The company operates from a shabby utility building round the back of a derelict warehouse not far from the waterfront in an industrial complex on the furthest edge of London’s docklands.
If you know the combination to the suspiciously shiny padlock, you push open the metal security door – it took a lot of time and money to get that creak just right – and you’re met by a more-or-less authentic...
janitor with a mop (poisoned blade concealed in the head) and a bucket (sorry, it’s just a bucket). Get past him, and you go through another door. This one is heavier than the first, and it closes with an ominous click.
It took a lot of time and money to get that click just right. You’re in an air-tight lift. Assuming the work-experience guy doesn’t hit the button to suck out the air, and assuming maintenance has fixed that glitch in the lift’s accelerator mechanism, you’ll now descend (at a survivable speed) to the offices of Climbing Tree Books.
Your weapons will be confiscated (don’t even think about it; the work-experience guy might be an amateur, but the woman beside him is a werewolf), and you’ll be invited to step through the frosted-glass double doors to the waiting area. This is a wide gallery overlooking a cavern about the size of an aircraft hangar (big aircraft). There are sofas, chairs, low glass tables and even a visitor’s book. Thick carpet underfoot, big terracotta pots containing not-so-small trees, and even a hanging basket (about the size of a double hammock). The creepers hanging down remind you of snakes.
But what really catches your attention is the smoke-stained roof of the cavern far above your head. This space is vast (and smoky). As you walk across the gallery to the railing, you notice that there are flames billowing from fissures in the rock walls of the cavern. Really vast. And hot, too.
For the first time, it occurs to you to wonder just how far you’ve descended into the earth. Is that molten lava down there, or just some kind of light show?
And surely that isn’t –
It can’t be –
Very, very quietly, you step back from the railing. Holding your breath, you walk very, very carefully, about as quietly as you’ve ever walked, back to the sofas. You sit down on one of them, just on the edge of the cushion, very carefully, and with your eyes closed, you take a pair of (slightly bent) noise-reduction headphones from your satchel and put them on your head.
You hear nothing, and see nothing, as a vast shadow crosses the roof of the cavern and the air fills with the leathery beat of wings. You have already reached forward and picked up one of the books from the table. You have opened the book, and then your eyes, in that order, and now you have focused your whole mind on the page in front of you.
Luckily, it’s a Climbing Tree Book, so good that even in this situation, you’re able to forget your surroundings. You’ve heard of the author before, Patricia Finney, and when you turn the book over to read the blurb and the author biog., you know why. She’s the author of a lot of books that you’ve enjoyed over the years, and now here she is bringing them all out again, in new editions, with extras, with Climbing Tree Books. They’re available as ebooks too.
The book you’re holding is Do We Not Bleed? It’s the first of the mysteries featuring James Enys. You close it for a moment – it’s difficult to stop reading, but you manage it – and you pick up another of the books on the table. Rose Wagner’s Arguments With Our Lady Gaia. What would they have to argue about? You flick through – oh, right. But you don’t put it down – the book has caught your attention.
You lean forward, engrossed. You forget everything but the book and the story it tells you about Gaia and humanity. Maybe we are all doomed, after all. Or we’ve got a lot to discover, in the very near future.
You see it first in your peripheral vision: a shaggy dog is padding towards you across the carpet. It holds a book in its mouth, but when it gets to you, it won’t let the book go. The dog’s so very shaggy that you can’t see the book’s title. “Good dog,” you say, and the dog lays its head on your knee as you use your free hand to ruffle the fur around its ears.
There are more books on the table in front of you, and you want to read them. Finally, the dog moves its head from your knee, and as it pads slowly away, you’re free to pick up A Broom At The Masthead by M J Logue. This is a new book, freshly printed, and as you open it you feel that you inhale its newness. You settle more comfortably into the sofa and begin to read.
And then – a hand drops onto your shoulder.
You open your eyes to find yourself lying flat on your back on the floor between the sofa and the table. You fainted? Your headphones have fallen off. But the man hasn’t moved – you can’t have been out for too long. You scramble to your feet. “Uh, sorry.” He gives you a faint smile – maybe he’s used to that reaction from visitors. You get your first proper look at him.
Now you know what “gaunt” really means.
“I thought you might like this,” he says. His voice is surprisingly gentle.
You take the book he’s holding out, but before you can look at it, the man produces another book from inside his coat. Unicorn’s Blood, by Patricia Finney. Before you can take that, he offers you another. The Journey from Heaven, by William Essex. You realise that this is a game. But you can see from his eyes that there’s no malice in it. “We publish a wide range of titles,” he says softly, watching your face. “Try this one.”
“You don’t publish that!” You speak without thinking. He’s a lot bigger than you. And those teeth.
But it’s a mint-condition Necronomicon, by Abdul Alhazred. First edition, by the look of it: you would know that dust jacket anywhere. Priceless. Only last week, you were in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, haggling over a few torn and stained pages from the disputed 1873 printing...
He drops his eyes. “No, but Howard liked the idea of it turning up every now and then, outside his work.”
“You knew H.P-”
But for several minutes there has been a sound at the edge of your consciousness. It is a slithering, scratching sound, and as you begin to speak, you become aware that there is something inside the man’s coat. Abruptly, you realise: it is trying to get out.
“Feeding time!” says the man cheerfully.
“I have to go!” you shout, as if shouting will stop him raising his hands to free the thing inside his coat.
He looks up. “You won’t stay for your meeting? Mr Tree will be so disappointed.”
But now there is the faintest hint of mockery in his expression. He reaches into a side pocket and draws out a baby’s plastic feeding bottle. “Feeding time won’t take long,” he says.
There is movement inside the man’s coat. The edge of something black appears over the lapel. Then a tentacle unfurls, reaches out, and wraps itself round the feeding bottle. The man releases his grip, and the bottle is drawn down inside the coat. “Aren’t you a clever little being?” the man murmurs, looking down into his coat. His teeth make his smile grotesque.
“I really have to go,” you’re saying, scrabbling round to gather your things. “I really have to, I’ve remembered, it’s a bad time, I must-” You don’t want to hear the sucking, slurping, greedy sound from within the man’s coat.
“I’m so sorry to hear that.” The man reaches behind the sofa and produces a large bag. “Would you like to take them all?” he says. “I can offer you a good discount - you haven’t got time? Only takes a moment by card? No? We take cash if you prefer? I have change right here.”
You’re backing away from him towards the lift.
“The print titles are available from all good bookshops,” he calls after you, “and most bad bookshops as well, I’m sure, and all our books are available online, and you’re welcome to visit us again.”
The lift door closes. Through it, you hear him laugh softly, “If you can find the door twice,” he says.