The Strange Tales of the Collector (short sf story)


Dedicated to Mircea Cărbunaru, the real Collector

He had been called the Collector for as long as he could remember. For the neighborhood, it was more of a nickname, but he knew well that he deserved this name from the early days of his writings. After years of attempts, publishing in fanzines and obscure magazines, he finally succeeded in gathering his best stories into a book he titled "The Strange Tales of the Collector." It was, in a way, his child, his most important creation. Delighted after the release of the volume, he decided to organize a launch in his hometown, as was the tradition, and as every local writer had done before him. It was, if you will, a kind of local pride, glorification of work, and especially a reason for envy in the neighborhood. Here he was, the Collector, succeeding at last.


Nearly fifty people had gathered in the hall. The Collector had already shaken a few hands, kissed a few women, chuckled with a couple of young girls. Now he anxiously watched the clock. Time was passing, and the editor was not coming. He called, but the sound seemed to disappear into nothingness. It wasn't the fact that the guy didn't show up that worried him, but the issue of the book copies. He had only a few, and the rest were in a large cardboard box in the editor's car. The editor for the Collector was nothing but a ruffled frog that dirtied the purity of the book. If he could, he would have gotten that frog drunk on vodka and released it into a river, laughing at the comical swim of the amphibian afterward.

- Did you hear? A storm has started 40 km away from us. They say it's a true biblical flood. Buckets of rain, lightning, and the wind is about to shatter the cars. Is your editor on his way?
- Yes. He's not answering his phone. He'll come eventually. He doesn't like to be late.
The thought of the frog made him smile.

Eventually, the presentation had to begin without the editor. They talked about the Collector's book: a local science fiction short story writer and a county-level literary critic. Discussions arose, especially after the local writer wanted to show his greatness by criticizing one of the Collector's stories, creating a stir in the audience. Some of the Collector's friends were even close to creating a new pocket for the cheeky one. With his recognized dignity, the Collector eventually defused the dispute, agreeing with all parties involved. He shared his favorite joke about the factory... Which joke? The one where there was an accident at a factory, resulting in half of the nearby village being flooded. Were there many complaints? Very many, but not complaints, but thank-you letters. Why so? Well, the factory was producing alcoholic beverages. And so with the egos at the launch. They faded away and transformed into gratitude. The vodka that the Collector offered at the end changed all perspectives on the book. Everyone appreciated the purity and, above all, the exceptional taste. In the evening news, there was a report about a car that fell from the new bridge in Brăila. The Collector, too tired after a full day, didn't give importance to that news.


The sun caressed his head as if it were a caring mother. He had been sitting on the bench in the courtyard for a long time, and Stanislaw Lem no longer brought him as much joy as before. Now he seemed like a plateaued, dull, and perhaps a bit too proud writer. And his opinion mattered. After all, he was the greatest living Romanian writer. Some literary critics joked that he was on the shortlist for the Nobel Prize, but he didn't give them the importance they wanted to obtain. Under the book lay a copy of the literary criticism magazine. He would read it soon, when he truly got bored of Stanislaw. A firetruck with its lights flashing stopped in front of his gate.

- Good day. They call you the Collector, isn't that so?
- Yes, I am. What happened?
- We have a package for you. We retrieved it from a car that had an accident. It's a large, heavy cardboard box. It has the address here, and a name, Collector. Are you the one? Did we get it right?
- Yes, yes. I am the Collector.
- Let me turn off these sirens. We turned them on to get through traffic faster. With today's traffic...

A hefty man got out of the red firetruck. Red as fire, the Collector thought. He struggled to take out the box and placed it in front of him.
- This is the box. It has books in it. We didn't want to open it, but it tore when we pulled it out of the Danube, and that's how we saw them. You're a big shot, sir! I read your entire book, "The Strange Tales of the Collector." Beautiful, I must say.
Thank you. You're kind to bring the box inside the yard. At my age... I can easily carry, one by one, each book inside. Thank you very much.
Cheers! Until we meet again!

The man then got back into the firetruck and disappeared as if everything had been an illusion. The Collector gently closed the gate and took a copy of the book. He had been waiting for it! They found them now? Did the accident happen a long time ago?


The literary criticism magazine was just tearing apart his latest book, "Life as a Thorn," through the writing of the critic Cărbun Mirceanu. Tactfully, the Collector circled the name, left the magazine on the bench, and went inside. He rummaged a bit indignantly in the hallway cupboard and eventually found what he was looking for. With the pen, he wrote calligraphically on a label "Cărbun Mirceanu" and then carefully stuck it on a large 5-liter jar. He shook his hands as if he had carried a huge boulder like Sisyphus. Then he tensed slightly, took the jar in his arms, and entered the first room. He placed it on the bottom shelf. He had only one place left. He stepped back a bit and admired the entire set from a small distance. Yes. The critic's name, written in calligraphy, shone in the darkness alongside the rest of the names. Jar next to jar, this time full, sparkled in the dim light with their calligraphic letters. The Collector sighed. Tactfully, he then filled the last jar with vodka. He was preparing another recipe of his own, literary, he could say, laughing to himself. He had work to do. As if driven by an unseen force, he rose on tiptoes and arranged the first jar a bit. That's it. Now it was perfect. From beyond the glass, the head of the editor with bulging eyes seemed to come from another world. The Collector then closed the door gently and headed to the computer where he carefully typed on Google - Cărbun Mirceanu, address. The day ended well after all!

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