Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge Response: The Invisible Bookshop
Very excited to be able to take part in the first terribleminds flash fiction challenge of the year.
Written on January 13, 2014, for the terribleminds flash fiction challenge due midday, January 17, 2014, this piece explores more of my Otherworld setting. I’m beginning to think, this setting and the pixie-dust setting might be one and the same. I’ll write some more to work it out. We had to randomly roll two words, which made up our title, and then we had 1,000 words in which to write a story. This piece is exactly 1,000 words long.
The invisible bookshop stood on the corner of Pattinson and Lane. It was not a secretive place, tucked away in an alley or down a side-street. It stood proudly where all could see—or where all would be able to see, if the shop itself was visible. Most of the time, it looked like a big, blank corner of wall, with no windows and no door. I loved the place.
As if invisibility wasn’t enough, the front door shifted, and the symbol marking it had to be discerned amongst the protective graffiti that adorned what met mortal and immortal eyes alike—a symbolic doorbell, usually a twist of paint representative of shape and form, but not a direct portrait. You rang it, and stepped through on the left. If you didn’t, you’d end up face first in the wall. I was good at spotting the doorbell in its myriad forms. Very good, also, at noticing those who might do the bookstore harm.
There are all sorts of creatures who wish to see it gone, different factions who don’t believe the bookshop has a right to withhold tomes which might do lasting damage to this world, the Otherworld, and the worlds between. The last time the bookshop was attacked, was because the Summer Queen’s court decided the Winter court must perish, that it had no place in the dry and sunny climes they now called home.
It took a troll to remind the fey that some rules still held sway in this land to which the colonists had brought them. Most trolls will have nothing to do with books—except as kindling. Troll kings are rare, and most don’t read. This one did. Born of the fantasies woven by authors who had never met a bard, and mingled with the earlier and wilder creatures found in the folklore of a time long past, the existence of troll kings challenged everything we knew a troll to be. It was a complication I had not thought I needed at the time.
The warriors of the Summer Court are fair and golden, descended from tales born in Scotland and the old country. When the Scots and English came to Australia, they prepared the way for doors to open in the Dreaming, doors the spirit people sometimes closed, if the fey caused too much trouble. Trolls just came through wherever there were bridges closely tied to similar Otherworld landmarks. Sometimes a culvert would suffice. I hated trolls; they fed without discernment or restraint—anything that moved or breathed or screamed with fear.
And trolls were ugly, from the small squat and hairy ‘bouncers’ to the misshapen masses that were as tall as trees or as large and lumpy as granite outcrops, their noses constantly a-twitch for ‘Christian’ blood or true believers. Not a single one of these would try to enter the bookshop, but the troll king did. I saw him and alarm shivered through me, but he was wearing a large pair of blue jeans and no shirt or shoes. Tribal tats in ochre red and yellow, and wode-enshaded blue covered his torso. His tusks gleamed a creamy ivory in the fading dusk, and his hair fell in a single plait to the centre of his back.
He pressed the buzzer, once, stepped carefully to the left and disappeared from sight. I was about to hurry after him, lest he cause too much damage before he could be stopped, but sly movement caught my eye. Elves. Twenty or more, having forsaken their steeds in favour of silence and stealth. I slipped back into the café, holding my newly-bought and well-wrapped fish and chips to my chest.
“I’ll need a bag,” I said, at the proprietor’s enquiring look. “Two. One for the food and the other for the drinks.”
It was enough. While he packed my dinner into environmentally unfriendly plastic, I scoped out the elves—and sighed. I was off duty, but it looked like dinner was going to be late. The elves definitely had plans for the bookstore, and they weren’t friendly.
I watched as one unslung a globe of magical fire, while another pressed the doorbell. I suppressed a snicker as another leapt to the right of the symbol and rebounded from the wall. Even elves make mistakes, and these weren’t your modern fantasy elves; these were fey from the legends of another land—mean-tempered and capricious. I forgot about the troll. The real trouble had just worked out it needed to step to the left.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the bags and strolling across the road to where the last two fey were loitering outside the door.
They moved to stand in my way.
I put my bags down and unbuttoned my coat—I love Canberra; it’s temperate enough for dusters, and late autumn can be downright cold in the evening. The elves watched, their eyes widening when they saw the elven blade hanging at my waist.
“Whose betrothed are you?”
“I never did catch his name,” I said, “but do you really wish to dare his ire?”
I pull the chain from beneath my shirt. I have yet to work out which fairy queen has allied me to her court, but the Summer elves knew. They stood aside. I drew the sword and entered.
“Winter must come,” the troll was insisting. “Without it Summer cannot be.”
The elves were arrayed before it.
“The book your queen requires is here,” the proprietor said, emerging from amongst the stacks. From the looks on their faces the elves still thought him behind the counter. I glanced at the title The Symbiosis of the Seasonal Courts of the Fey.
The raiders’ captain drew himself tall, and snapped out a hand.
“Two hundred gold,” the proprietor said, and the troll lord bared his fangs. I let the chain hang free, held the sword steady. The captain paid.
“We’ll be back,” he said.
“I sincerely doubt it,” the proprietor replied.
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