I clumsily stumbled off the train into the frosty, crispy air of Glasgow Central Station after my gruelling nightshift. My feet ached, my eyes were stinging and I was yawing with practically every breath. I couldn’t wait to cut through Thomson Street alley, to avoid the Christmas shopping hysteria in the city centre, get back to my flat, make some hot chocolate and climb into my lumpy old bed.
After buying a black coffee and a new pack of cigarettes, I eventually managed to squirm out of the crowded buzzing station and took the shortcut home. Thomson Street alley was quite wide and cobbled with a few charity shops and a crumbling old café that was in dire need of a facelift. I pulled on my woolly gloves and hugged my arms to my shivering body as I paced down the alley with fresh snow crunching under my warm boots. As I turned at the bend later in the alley, I stopped short to see a brand new shop. I had walked through the winding path only the day before and in the spot where the new shop now stood, there was merely a brick wall. I couldn’t understand how an entire shop could have been built and ready for business overnight. Had I just never noticed it before?
It was a small bookshop, decorated with pale blue paint that was peeling around the edges of the roughcast walls. Vines of flowers crawled up the structure into the guttering, strangling the little cottage. A sign above the glass door in an Old English script read: Ivy Moon Bookshop.
Even though I was in a zombie-like state induced by lack of sleep, I couldn’t resist. I put out my struggling cigarette and slinked inside. A bell rang above the door as I walked in. Heat and the scent of various fruit teas swirled around me. The air was thick with the sweet fragrances of pomegranate, raspberry, blueberry and vanilla with a hint of peppermint and green tea. Miraculously, the shop seemed double the size on the inside. The walls extended to what seemed to be the height of a double decker bus and the room stretched in length. Stacks and stacks of books were messily piled on top of each other. Old musky scented books with yellow tattered pages; fresh new releases with pristine white pages; hardbacks; paperbacks; novels; novellas; plays; short story collections; and poetry collections towered above me in their hundreds and their fingertips touched the high ceiling. Even though the room was huge, there was very little room to manoeuvre as large round tables covered with yet more books and displays littered the shop floor.
On one table sat the gothic horror classics. There was huge leather-bound copies of Dracula and Frankenstein with ghostly, surrealist illustrations on the cover that pierced your eyes like the people in old oil paintings who follow you around the room. I had never seen such beautiful but haunting untouched editions before. I was so amazed and intrigued by this concealed gem that I didn’t noticed the shop owner approaching from the stockroom.
“You like the horrors?” A husky, withered voice asked.
My head snapped round and I immediately put the books back down where I’d found them. I felt like I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t have.
“Oh, uh-yes,” I stammered as I folded a section of snow-soaked hair behind my ear. “The cover art is lovely. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The shop owner was an elderly lady with long hair that was almost white but still possessed a hue of her natural blonde. Her wispy strands fell straight and reached her waist. She wore layers of heavy purple lace and had at least two chunky rings on each bony, liver-spotted finger. Her face was wrinkled and I found myself getting lost as I tried to follow the lines and trace the roots. But the old lady’s most fascinating feature by far was a small bright yellow crescent moon tattoo on her brow, right between her eyes. I couldn’t help but stare.
“Ah…yes. The books are very beautiful. Such a wonder, isn’t it? Sometimes, frequently in fact, I get headaches from the thousands of voices inside these pages, all talking over each other and telling me their stories. There are so many, sometimes it is difficult for me to comprehend,” the old lady whispered, sounding like she was about to cry.
I thought it was such an odd thing to say. I wasn’t really sure how to respond and she sensed my discomfort.
“Are you looking for anything in particular, my dear?” she asked, dazed.
“No, I was just browsing. It’s quite curious, I’ve never seen this shop here before,” I said, hoping for an explanation for the stores sudden appearance.
“You look, my dear, but sometimes you don’t see,” she smiled. “Feel free to browse, child. Look around for as long as you like but I must ask you not to go into the little room at the back of the shop. It is, shall we say, under construction.”
I was more confused than ever but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. The old lady went back into the room she immerged from and I could smell more freshly boiled fruit tea seeping through the air.
I wandered around the store, flicking through pages, studying cover art, picking up the unknown books I was fascinated by and clutching them to my chest. As I winded between tables and further into the shop, the room appeared to elongate and become darker and darker with every step I took. I looked back at the windows at the front of the shop and they seemed to be miles away. At the very back of the shop, was the room the old lady had mentioned. It was a room within a room that was painted with glittering gold paint and had its own glass door and window. A little paper sign hung on the door that read: Do not enter. I peered in the dusty windows searching to see what was inside but the contents of the mysterious room could not been seen. It was pitch black.
I took one last look around to double check that I was alone. I placed my hand on the golden door handle, twisted it to the left until I heard a small click and pushed the door open. Suddenly anxious that the old lady would catch me, I ran inside and closed the door behind me. The room was still and silent except from my stunted breaths.
I was in complete darkness but in the distance I could faintly see a flickering light, like a tiny lit candle. The light morphed from yellow to a deep lilac, accompanied with a strange ticking sound which was becoming more and more rapid. Just as I was about to retreat to the door, a huge puff of purple smoke erupted from the small flame with a crispy click like that of a flashing camera. I could feel my pupils shrinking to pinpricks to try to block out the sudden blinding light. I opened my eyes again to see, in the midst of the darkness, a shining violet book sitting on top of a tall table surrounded with intertwining blue flowers that had glowing purple veins in their leaves. The cover of the luminous book was inscribed with: Beware.
I crept forward to the book and I could feel the lavender glow on my skin as I got closer. I read the warning sign on the cover again. I imagined it to be an old spell book used by witches or an instruction manual for voodoo, black magic or communicating with the dead. I was so nervous-excited. I had to look inside.
Delicately, I placed my fingertips around the front cover and slowly pushed it back to read what was inside. I looked down to see that the book was a decoy. The pages inside had been cut out in the middle to create a hollow. It was made to hide objects inside, but it was empty. I peered at the empty book and wondered what all of this was about. At that moment, the book began to tremble under my fingers and a gentle breeze which quickly evolved into a gale-force wind flooded out of the book’s hollow and began to whip around the room. In a panic, I gripped the front cover with both hands and used all my strength to try to close the book but it wouldn’t shut. A thunderstorm raged from the book and circled violently in the dark room. I went for the door and tried to run as fast as I could but I wasn’t running. Instead, I could feel a force pulling me back. I was being sucked like a speck of dust into a vacuum and in a few seconds, I had shrunk to the size of a thumb and I was being pulled inside the hollow of the book.
I screamed and struggled. I grabbed and clutched desperately at the edges of the pages but I was helpless. My muscle began to ache and eventually, I let go and allowed the twister to take me. I was drawn inside and the gigantic, heavy front cover slammed shut behind me.
I was falling in a dusty, spinning vortex, flailing around in mid-air like a dying fish. I was only falling for a few seconds before I came to the ground, but it didn’t hurt. I glided to the floor and landed softly in a large ballroom. It was a huge empty room with marble floors, crystal chandeliers and long tables covered with cloth, candles and mountains of food. Sunlight flooded in through the high windows and reflected off the chandeliers, casting rainbows across the room. I looked around frantically for someone who could help me get back but I was still alone.
At that moment, a square-shaped present dissolved from thin air on to one of the tables. It was wrapped in white paper with a huge velvet blue bow. A tag dangled from it. I crossed the room over to the present and read the tag which said: The key to get back. I ripped off the wrapping paper in great chunks and threw it to the ground. Then I tore open the box underneath. Inside the box was a cream, vintage handheld mirror with an ornate frame. I picked it up and looked at my reflection.
The teenage girl I was expecting to see in the mirror wasn’t there. Instead, looking back at me was an elderly woman. Wrinkles creased her skin, the pupils clouded and became opaque with cataracts, coloured drained from her cheeks and silver strands grew over her brunette hair. It was me. I touched my face and I could feel the dents of wrinkles and pulled my skin to discover it was now stretchy, papery and weak. My spine crunched as my back began to hunch over and ache. My bones grew frail and chalky. My mind started to waver, I couldn’t remember who I was or how I had come to be in this room. Most alarming of all, I now had the same crescent moon tattoo on my brow. I closed my eyes tightly, hoping that when I opened them again, everything would be back to normal.
When I opened them, I was back in the bookshop but I was still a frail old lady. I shuffled my tired feet forward in search of the shop owner. The old lady then skipped out of the stockroom.
“Ah, you let curiosity get the better of you, my dear! You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” she cackled. I focussed my blurry vision to see that the former old lady was now no older than twenty five. Her long hair had reversed from its wispy grey tinge back to a lustrous golden blonde mane. Her skin was firm and peachy, colour flushed her features and she stood tall, sturdy and smouldering with youth, health and beauty. Her tattoo was gone.
“What have you done to me?” I asked, my tired voice cracked and my throat burned.
“You are the new bookkeeper, child!” she sniggered.
She skipped to the shop door and closed it behind her, smiling darkly and waving at me from outside. With every fibre of my being, I willed myself over to the door to get out. Surely, this strange magic would wear off once I left this enchanted bookshop. With every step, I could feel my muscles being doused in lactic acid and my limbs becoming heavier with every attempt to move. I eventually got to the door and grabbed the handle with my withered hand but it was locked. The lady stood outside the shop, peering in at me and laughing.
My head pounded with the voices of the narrators from every book in the shop as they began to shout over each other into my delicate ears. I looked around and all the books were opening and closing in unison like talking mouths as I threw my hands to my ears to stop the deafening chatter.
“Help! Somebody open the door and get me out,” I shouted over the voices as I pressed myself against the shop window, but nobody else was in the alley except the lady.
She smirked and waved at me one last time before walking away.
As I slid to the floor and began to weep, the bookshop suddenly shook under me and the foundations cracked like thunder as the shop lifted from the ground. I was thrown across the room into table as the shop roughly shook free from the foundations and rose up. I crawled over to the window and looked out to see people on the streets shrinking to ants, followed by the city shrinking to the size of Lego bricks as the shop flew higher. The air was becoming thin as the shop ascended further. I stared out of the shop window, down at Earth as I floated in darkness beside the stars and the moon, frightened and dazed now as a ninety year old woman. Trapped in space, until the day the bookshop would lower to Earth again, to curse a new bookkeeper.