The Willie Button Series



Pardonable Error


by

Albert J. Manachino


Willie thought he saw motion out of the corners of his eyes. The street was dark and shadows moved as an ill-begotten wind rattled billboards and flapped loose shutters and overhanging signs. He hurried, tightening his grip on a blue canvas bag. Footsteps pattered behind him.

The moon was dying, it had reached its final quarter. The light that survived to reach the street was broken by dark clouds scurrying across its face. They too were racing home to escape the cold autumn breezes.

There it was again. Something leaped like a kangaroo in the darkness. Willie abandoned the sidewalk for the middle of the street where shadows were not quite as dense. It was icy cold and his fingers froze to the handles of the bag he carried. Willie's feet, however, were quick and agile. If only he could locate a streetlight. He'd cower in its protective glow till morning.

Willie was not worried about freezing to death as death had claimed him many years ago. It was his corporeal spirit that wandered seeking to unburden itself of the dreadful contents of the canvas bag.

He was vulnerable, though. Anything capable of arousing fear was a factor to be wary of, for there were malignant entitles that preyed on earthbound spirits.

The thing that followed executed a tremendous leap and landed directly in front of him. Willie screamed. He turned to flee back the way he'd come though he was aware of the futility of his intention.

The thing did look vaguely like a kangaroo. Its powerful legs were made especially for jumping and the long scaley tail especially for balancing. The tail terminated in a poisonous looking barb. Fur bespattered its chest in irregular patches as if originally flung against it in handfuls. White scaley flakes it shed were reminiscent of dandruff.

The head and arms were humanoid but distorted in such a fashion as to be imaginable only in nightmares. Red eyes, an unbelievably sharp nose and improbable mustaches that drooped on either side of an almost non-existent chin dominated its face.

The thing pattered after Willie and caught him with an effortless ease. With his back to a wall and stunned with fear, Willie turned to face his demonic pursuer. It carried a large, foul smelling ledger under a skinny, broom-stick arm.

"I've been looking for you," it said.

"For me?" Willie's voice quavered. The words barely made their way past his lips.

"Yesss, for you." The "S" was drawn out into a long reptilian hiss.

"Surely you've made a mistake. I've had no dealings with any of your kind."

"Not directly but you've causssed me great inconvenience. First, I had to trace that book to you. Then, I had to find you. What a long merry chassse you've led me. My time is valuable, young man. I don't like to wassste it on sssuch trivial routine mattersss asss thisss. It shook a tiny, sharp nailed, finger in his face.

"Book? I don't understand."

"Pleassse don't wassste my time in pretensssionsss of innocence. My name is Mr. Yahwisss. I am his Dark Majesty's official librarian." He opened the ledger and perused several pages before finding what he sought. Willie noticed that the wind which was now of almost hurricane proportions did not so much as rustle a single one of the pages being turned.

"Here we are," a searching finger stopped. "Your name is William Button, isss it not?"

"Yes, but I still don't understand."

"You have in your posssesssion one of our booksss sssince …" he mentioned the date Willie had stolen the book which was later identified as the devil's bible, from the safe of a recently deceased sorcerer.

Willie remembered. "You're right, I still have it."

"You are aware, are you not, that it isss long overdue?"

A strange sensation began to grow within Willie, the germination of hope.

"You mean that you have been pursuing me with the Intention of retrieving this book?"

"Of courssse, it'sss our property. Not only retrieving it but alssso of levying a penalty. A sssevere penalty, I might add."

Hope now blossomed into a full-grown tree. Birds sang in its branches and Willie's heart overflowed with joy. Hope, hope… redemption, the end of his interminable wanderings.

"I don't care what the penalty is, I'll pay it. I'll pay anything."

Mr. Yahwis removed a slip fastened to the page by a rusty paper clip.

"You have had thisss book sssince…" again he mentioned the accursed date. "The fine levied againssst you is ten dollarsss and thirty-one centsss."

"Oh, my God!"

Will's exclamation caused the demon to wince. "Pleassse resstrain yourssself from the usssage of such vulgarity. I like to keep thessse trantsssactionsss on a gentlemanly level."

Willie had whipped out his wallet and was feverishly counting dollar bills into the satanic librarian's hands.

"…eight, nine, ten." From a pocket he produced a few pieces of change. "...twenty-five, thirty, thirty-one cents. That's correct isn't it?"

Mr. Yahwis cautiously recounted the money. "Yesss, the fine hasss been sssatisssfied." He signed a receipt and handed it to Willie. "Now, would you care to make a renewal on the book?"

Willie almost screamed. "No! No! No!" His hands had zipped open the canvas bag almost of their own volition and brought forth the evil volume that had hung around his neck like an albatross. "Take it! Take it! Take it!" Eagerly he thrust it into the demon's hands. His eyes sought the darkened heavens. "Hear me, oh Lord! I'm free. I'm free! The book is gone." The skies did seem to lighten for a moment.

Mr. Yahwis opened the hellish bible to examine it for damage. He stopped at the flyleaf and emitted an embarrassed cough.

"Oh my beloved Sssatan. Oh by the holy fires of the burning pit…" He faced Willie, the picture of utter and complete mortification. "My apologiesss, Sssir. My mossst abject and humblessst apologiesss . Sssuch a missstake hasss never before occurred in all our hissstory."

"Mistake?" Something died within Willie.

"Yesss, missstake. Sssomeone will pay for thisss. I have never been so humiliated in my life."

Somehow, Willie found himself holding the devil's bible again. Mr. Yahwis was standing in the middle of a fiery red circle. He bowed to Willie. "Again my apologiesss."

There was the terrible odor of brimstone and freshly opened graves. A column of vile, greasy smoke rose from the circle and for a moment resisted the efforts of the wind to dissipate it. Mr. Yahwis and the circle vanished.

Willie remained standing, unmoving, as in a daze. He was dead to all sensation.

Yahwis didn't return the fine, he thought.

The icy wind buffeted his flimsy garments and flapped his threadbare coat. He was still holding the devil's bible. Slowly, his numbed fingers opened the cover, something he had never done before. There was a barely visible label pasted onto the flyleaf. The moon chose that moment to emerge. By its feeble light Willie read the inscription,

Discard, Ex-Libris Infernum


******

- To Be Continued -

Copyright by
Albert J. Manachino

Illustration
Copyright by
Kevin D. Duncan

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