Note: I am about to relay a story that happened on day #2 of my #60Citiesin60Days #BookTour that contains some offensive content. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
Above, and completely unrelated to this post’s content: As-seen on the way from Houston to Wichita Falls, the Saving Grace billboard. With a lot of sky, because I am not a visual artist.
Another note: If you are reading this free content and haven’t gone out to Amazon and/or Goodreads and left HONEST ratings and/or reviews on each of my books that you have read, then go stand in the corner.
The question I get asked the most about this summer’s insanity-of-a-book tour is, “What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened?” And I’ve shared a lot of weird and funny and dramatic and scary and gross and happy and tired and unhappy moments so far. But the weirdest thing that happened, hands down, happened on DAY TWO this summer, and it was almost enough to send me home before I barely got myself started.
It happened something like this:
Liz and I rolled into Waco for a great afternoon, just off a big success in Victoria, our first official tour day. We started well enough, with a fun, live TV show. Then we came back to Hastings to do the book event.
There was a funny vibe in the air. The store staff was nice, but you know how sometimes you can feel the universe start to shimmy, just enough to alert you that weird shit is about to happen? Well, it was that kind of night.
We had a couple of slightly odd folks come through, nothing alarming, and much like many of the slightly odd folks we would meet in the majority of the towns we stopped in over the summer. There’s nothing like an author behind a table to attract the unhinged. You’re a veritable sitting duck behind that table. For real. If you ever plan to do book events, prepare your “graceful exit speech” to disengage with these people. Rehearse it. You’re going to need it.
On day two, however, I didn’t know this. We chatted with them, all of them, bemused, naive, and relaxed. And then in walked the man who was to become THE WEIRDEST MOMENT OF THE SUMMER.
He was a little wired. Drugs, maybe? High strung? Mentally ill? I wouldn’t have picked him out as a creeper from a crowd, but in person his aura twanged. He was actually a presentable, attractive guy to look at, from across the room. Mid-thirties, shoulder length blond hair back in a low, neat ponytail. Artsy-looking. Music-scene-ish. But he was a little wide-eyed. And he beelined straight to us from the store entrance.
He launched into his tale immediately, shifting from foot to foot at first, then leaning toward me over the table. “You’re a writer, so I was wondering about something I found, whether you’ve ever heard of it or seen anything like it, since you’re a writer, and in the book industry and all.”
He pushed a book toward me. It was frayed, faded, and falling apart. The words on the cover weren’t in English. So far, I hadn’t a clue what this guy wanted from me. I continued to smile pleasantly, my “maybe this wacko will buy a book,” smile.
He hurried on. “I found this book at the old farmhouse I just moved into. With my wife. And our baby. It’s in German. I think it’s a naturalist book.”
“Wow,” I said. That’s code for, “WTF are you showing me this for??” but he didn’t seem to get it.
“So, anyway, have you ever seen anything like this?” I was about to respond with, “Sure I have a seen a lot of old books,” but his next move took the words right out of my mouth. He flipped the book open to a page marked by a whisper-thin piece of something I didn’t immediately recognize. I saw that there were several such “bookmarks” protruding over the edges of the book, between its pages.
He picked it up reverently, and it floated around his fingers, translucent, and edged in places with a rich red, like a mostly-flaked off border of dried paint. As he wafted it up and over my own hand, he added, “Obviously it’s dried skin and dried blood, but from what? What do you think? Have you ever heard of people drying skin in books?”
The skin–I had no doubt now that that is what it was–ballooned onto my hand, and I pulled mine back, an involuntary reaction, albeit a delayed one. Liz said, “EWW,” and stepped backwards as well.
“Um, no, I haven’t ever heard of that. I’ve heard of drying herbs, flowers, plants, even insects between pages. Putting locks of hair or ribbons into them. But, no, never skin.” I could feel my forehead furrow.
“What kind of skin do you think it looks like? Pig skin?” He asked, his dark eyes locked onto mine, intense, shining.
I cut mine away. I didn’t want to look at the skin again, but I did to avoid his eyes. Pig? “I’m not really qualified to say. Maybe.”
“Well, I can’t say for sure, but this is a book from the late 1880’s and it’s in German. It could have belonged to a Jewish family fleeing Germany.”
“Hmm, well,” I started to say.
“You know, they circumcise their sons. It could be foreskin.”
In my mind, I was thinking, “Security!”, but in reality the hyper-practical me couldn’t stop herself. “It’s far too big for that.”
“Gross!” Liz said. She cradled her arms across her chest.
I stepped back. I had just reached a lesson point: Pamela does not have to talk to every weirdo that waylays her. It was time to cut this one off. I picked up a book, signed it, and stuck a free gift card in it.
“This is for you,” I said, shoving it into his hands. “You can go checkout, and this card pays for it, with my compliments. I have to take a short break now, but thanks so much for coming by.”
He frowned. “Well, thanks, but I wanted to ask if you would be interested in writing a book about my company. And me. We do paranormal investigations, and so many really horrible and tragic things have happened with the group. It should really be in a book.”
I could only imagine, and then wished I couldn’t. “I’m sorry, but I’m over-committed on my writing calendar. Contact the local Writers Guild. I’m sure you can find someone.” I put my hand on Liz’s upper arm, drawing her after me as I turned to go to the ladies room. “You take care.”
“Here,” he said, and stuck a wrist band toward Liz. She didn’t take it and he set it on the table. “I play with an electronic metal band, we just came in 2nd in the Battle of the Bands in Deep Ellum. In case you want to look us up. And for you,” he added, and dug in his wallet for a card. “Our website.”
I let him put it on the table, too. “Thank you so much.” And I whisked my stepdaughter away to the bathroom where we both babbled super rational things, like “Oh my God,” and, “How creepy,” and “What if he follows us,” over and over to each other. I didn’t even worry about whether someone stole our pre-paid gift cards or my purse, which I hadn’t thought to bring with me.
We waited nearly ten minutes to give him time to check out, then returned to our table. The card and wrist band were gone. So was he. All that was left of his visit were the chill bumps on my arms and a horrible certainty that a serial killer had just touched me with one of his trophies.
I texted Eric. “Should I call the police?” But we decided that really, I had nothing. Nothing the police could use anyway. I did have one serious case of well-deserved willies, but no evidence, no name, not even a license plate number. Maybe one of the employees could figure out who he was. But if they could and I did report him, what was I really reporting him for? Having an old book with dried skin it it? That wasn’t illegal.
And he knew how to find me, too.
I didn’t call.
That night, we did not waste time getting on the road, and I drove with one eye on the rear view mirrors the whole way to my parents’ house, where we spent the night and I watched the windows.
So, pretty weird, huh? That’s the best I’ve got after 60 days in 60 cities on the road. Watch for it to pop up in one of my books someday ;-).