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Independent Bookstore

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It was three in the morning, and I was driving down Interstate 40 in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina. The next day was Memorial Day and to beat the traffic, I decided to leave at night. I lived in Raleigh, and I was driving to Omaha to visit relatives.

I was beginning to feel tired, so I thought I should exit and find a place to rest. As soon as I exited the highway, I found myself driving down an unlit backwoods road, Cold Springs Creek Road to be precise. This is unusual, as most roads near exits have at the bare minimum a gas station or a convenience store. This road had none of that. I soon came to the realization that my chances of finding lodgings were slim, so I considered pulling over on the side of the road to take a nap. However, my car was small and I was unarmed, so this would be very risky.

I continued down the road for several more miles until I noticed a pale light in the distance. As I drove towards the light, I could feel my hopes increasing. Sure enough, I saw a small inn on the right side of the road. Facing the road was a sign that displayed, "Ms. Smith's Inn and Bookstore." I parked in the small lot, exited my vehicle, and then walked to the door. The humid North Carolina air was thick and oppressive. It hung around the neon sign, casting an eerie blue glow.

When I knocked, an extremely old woman opened the door. She was at least ninety and her skin was criss-crossed with deep, canyon-like wrinkles. The wrinkles were so deep that they obscured her eyes, which were little more than black holes that seemed to protrude past her brain and into the universe itself. Her mouth was little more than a pinkish line, similar to a child's drawing of a mouth. Her nose was hooked and sharp like a hawk's beak. She seemed to be completely bald.

The entire lobby of the inn was lined with books, some with their spines cracked and looked ancient. However, many books looked rather new. Without speaking, the woman gave me a key, which surprised me as I had not needed to pay. Along with the key, the woman thrust a stack of papers toward me. There was a message on the top page:

"Summarize to me your life right up until you have visited my inn."

This was an excerpt from one of many books found in the fire at "Ms. Smith's Inn and Bookstore. Upon examining the remaining books, it was determined that the material used to bind the books was not leather, as which was originally thought. The inn was part of an investigation about the disappearances of five-hundred-and-twenty-three men and women from between the years of 1949 to 2007. Through the use of DNA analysis, it has been determined that the books are bound using the skin of the victims. A search of the surrounding forest was conducted and no evidence relating to the crime was found. The proprietor of the inn is still at large.

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