August 22, 2014 by Tiffany A. Robbins
SYNOPSIS: A goblin clerk and a store of bored books keep a sweet book shopper on her toes.Submission for NYCMidnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2014 Challenge #1 Group 8 Genre: Fairy Tale Location: A Book Store Include: A Chocolate Rabbit
Between the Lines by Tiffany A. Robbins
Long ago, a lonely young woman named Annabelle stepped delicately through the entrance to a book store to look for a gift of a book-a special book. As she entered, she had to sidestep a bit to simultaneously keep her white, lace dress from being caught in the oily door hinge and dodge the large, elven man fleeing the store with a look of panic upon his face.
Odd, she thought, it’s not easy rattle an elf.
The book store was a new place for the woman, and upon entering, she let out a gasp of awe at the architecturally decorative piles of books. Very few shelves were to be seen in the store. Instead, the books grew from the floor in stacks of helixes, tunnels, and domes. All in all, it was a very impractical use of the dewy decimal system, but she found the effect striking. She thought that surely this would be the place to find that special book she needed.
Only one customer occupied the store. It was an elderly fairy that giggled to herself as she hovered two feet from the books and perused. Upon a messy desk, a shiny brass bell sat. To get the attention of the clerk, Annabelle reached to ding the bell.
Suddenly, a goblin leapt from where he’d been crouching behind the desk, and, upsetting a pile of books, put a
protective, clawed hand over the bell, effectually stopping her from her summons and rendering it unnecessary at the same time.
“Don’t ring the bell,” he said and made a hissing noise, “Your story hasn’t been chosen yet.”
“Oh, I’m looking for a book for my husband. A gift. He’s a voracious reader.”
“A gift. No. We’ll find a story for you.” He then said more congenially while analyzing Annabelle. “I’m certain we’ll find something suited to your…” he looked her up and down, “character.”
“No, really. I need a book for my husband. It’s our anniversary, and he needs a book that has children in it. you see, I’d like to have a baby, and this will be my way of telling him.”
The bookkeep waved off her comments. “You look boring. I can’t imagine you’d last long…” He muttered the last part, and then he perked up. “I recommend you to the horror section. They never stay on the shelves long.” He grabbed the bell in one hand, and the fair skin of her arm in the other as he began to tow her to where the books loomed overhead as though they were a cresting wave about to dash the store to pieces.
“No. I’m looking more for something with a happy ending than horror. He needs to want a child, not be scared of one.”
“Oh, those are over there.” He waved across the room to where the books grew as a tree from the side of a wrought iron staircase.
A thought struck the woman, “How am I to buy a book without messing up the beautiful book designs that, no doubt, you’ve labored over building.
“Labored? No, that’s not their work. They’re just bored.”
“The books.” he said casually.
She reached to run her hand along a spine, and he snatched her hand away in the same manner as he’d guarded the bell from her touch. He whispered, “Don’t get too close unless you’re certain it’s the story for you.” Then he continued with his salesman voice, “Anyway, you don’t buy these books. Why would you want to buy a book when there’s so many stories left unfinished.”
She looked at him, speechless, and decided he must be a lunatic. He began muttering to himself as they passed deeper and
deeper into the stacks. Annabelle decided it best not to pay the crazy bookkeep any attention, so she browsed as his muttering grew and took on the tone and nature of an auctioneer. Occasionally, he’d yell at a book for being ridiculous or unreasonable.
As they approached where the fairy patron hovered, he said to her, “Ah, Beatrice, back for another adventure I see.”
She smiled and nodded. Then, she looked at Annabelle with her elderly, knowing gaze and said, “Have fun, dear.”
The bookkeep nudged Annabelle along toward the back of the store. She began to wonder how she could politely excuse herself when the bookkeep stopped her and eyed a particular book sternly. He turned back to the woman and gave her the same look.
Then, he hit the brass bell he’d been cradling, and hollered, “Sold!”
Abruptly, a young, troll girl tumbled from the book and looked around dazedly. “Thank, god,” she cried out.
As the atmosphere reverberated louder and louder with the continuing ring of the bell, the air began to shatter and cyclone around Annabelle and into the book.
“What’s happening?” she screamed.
“You see, young lady,” he said to her as she reached and grasped desperately to keep from being sucked into the pages of the book, “You don’t buy books. They buy you. I hope you find your happy ending.”
When the world finally came to make sense to the woman once again, she was sitting upon a layer of plastic greenery next to a person-size, chocolate bunny. All around her sat painted eggs that were three feet tall surround by a wall of wicker.
A shadow passed over the sun, and she looked up to see the gigantic, pudgy hand of a three-year-old child coming toward her as she heard his booming voice say, “Yummy.”