I am a confirmed lover of the neglected places of life: the off-the-beaten-path, the road less taken, the forgotten and overlooked, the mercifully free of crowds. I prefer the secluded corner to the wide-open spaces. My first home as a child had a large basement of exposed cinder-block walls. This subterranean dungeon contained the abandoned detritus left by a departed father: old-fashioned furniture, a desk, a work bench with tools hanging on the peg board above it - the outlines of hammers and saws exactly drawn around them in black magic marker. Sometimes the basement would flood after a heavy rain. Shades of Gormenghast! I discovered a few old paperbacks down there (2 of which appear above) as well as some old textbooks containing various short stories for somebody's long-ago English class. These books may have belonged to anyone; I still don't know. However, I have them all still. A much similar event to this happened in the young life of Stephen King (as relating in his excellent but dated study of horror "DANSE MACABRE"). The ten-year-old future horror author discovered a box of old Avon horror paperbacks that had belonged to his own absentee dad while prowling around his aunt's attic loft. It was, King said, something of a turning point for him, as it was the first time he would read "real" horror fiction. You see, these are magical things: books. One only has to ask H. P. Lovecraft how important his grandfather's attic library had been to him and how devastating it was when that fine old Providence house and the contents of said library had to be sold for bad business debts. Lovecraft never recovered. There was a Lovecraft paperback in that box of books Stephen King found: his first encounter with the writings of Lovecraft. A couple weeks after this momentous discovery the books disappeared no doubt due to the machinations of King's disapproving auntie. King shrugs off the loss as he writes of it but the sting was sharp enough to include the incident in his book decades later. Then, of course, the aforementioned forlorn Lord Sepulchrave so loved his books that he would lose his sanity after his library burned. This is indeed the extraordinary power and allure of books to those of us who hear their siren call.
There is just such a haven of books calling to me now; a place where the bookshelves do indeed go on and on across two storeys. A place that sits quietly in the small town of Mullica Hill on the banks of the Mullica River. Couched among the antique shops awaits Murphy's Loft. Back in the mid-1980's my cousin Loran and I both attended Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). During a blazing hot summer day in May, we both decided to ditch classes and make the not-inconsiderable drive to Mullica Hill. Along the way, the sky darkened to an angry purple and the roiling, lowering clouds assured us that we were in for a violent summer storm. Would we even make Mullica Hill before the downpour? Well, just as we pulled into the gravel drive which led us behind the house where Murphy's Loft lies, the skies opened up in a torrential rain. We ran for the door and stumbled into the bookstore. It was silent as a tomb; that particular complete silence which is amplified by the contrasting white noise of the rain outside. It was also very dark inside the book shop. No lights except for one tiny bulb burning over a desk - dimly picking out the faint edges of countless spines of books everywhere. Hello? Was anybody there? It didn't look like it. Perhaps the proprietor had been dragged into the walls by a huge, slug-like creature like one pictured on the cover of some old issue of WEIRD TALES. Presently, someone from the house did come down and turn on the lights; a buzzer on the door connected up to the house and alerted them when customers arrived. As the lights sprang into life, they revealed endless books books books. Where to start? The rest of the afternoon was spent in that magical place of old books. What could possibly be nicer than perusing through shelves of old books while a summer storm brewed outside? Nothing much can compare to it. I've never forgotten that afternoon and every few years I get the urge to go back to Murphy's Loft. It always happens in the summer. And it's happening again right now.