Blue Hour

Submitted into Contest #176 in response to: Set your story in a magical bookshop.... view prompt


Fiction Fantasy

Thomas stood outside in the cold, snowflakes landing on his shoulders and melting in his curls. Hands tucked in wool-lined pockets, boots planted on the icy sidewalk, he gazed up at the sign of the new bookstore, Blue Hour Books. He’d thought the name curious when he’d first passed it by days ago, yet curiouser still how he hadn’t truly noticed the building until now.

Blue Hour Books, though it had only opened a week before, radiated the quality of a long-standing staple in his small town. The new owner had given the door a fresh coat of navy paint and replaced the cracked panes of the bay window, but otherwise left the building as it stood. The vintage detailing in the dark wood, an arched doorway, and warm light radiating from the windows provided quite an elegant charm to the store.

It stood out on the street by tucking itself away, wedged between a new age shop and an artisan café with their identical plain white walls and minimalist logos, names backlit in cold, white light, printed in near indistinguishable sans-serif fonts, likely an Arial Bold or something just as default. The only distinction between the two were the signs for ethically sourced crystals in one window and organic coffee beans in the other.

It was during his daily walk home that the harsh light of the setting sun glared against the clinically white storefronts, reflected onto the freshly fallen snow, and bounced right into Thomas’ glasses. Momentarily blinded, he’d paused his walk, turned his face away from the sun, and found respite in Blue Hour Books’ dark, warm façade.

Now he stood alone on the quiet street, cheeks flushed and nose slowly frosting, debating on whether he should just continue home to his quiet one-bedroom apartment and leftovers of roast from last night’s dinner, or enter the curious little store. Thomas felt as though he had stumbled onto something secret, something special. An absurd thought, he knew. The store was open to all, had a sign of perfectly normal hours taped inside the round door window, had perfectly normal, perfectly popular titles on display on a table inside. Yet as he peered through the window, his mind snagged on the darkness of the interior, how it seemed to stretch impossibly long, as if the perfectly normal building may instead be a labyrinthian maze of books and shelves, paper and ink.

Thomas turned his eyes to the sign over the windows once more, hand-painted, it appeared, in a graceful script, and noticed for the first time a bit of subscript; Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

The line was familiar, tickled something in the depths of his memories, warmed something just behind his ribcage. A quote, perhaps, from something he’d read long ago. Curious, how curious.

Thomas loved books. True, it had been weeks since he’d had a moment to sit still and read one, what with the approaching holiday season and all. His days had coalesced into something rigidly cyclical, of waking, working, eating, sleeping, over and over, again and again and again. The last three weeks had been so, and he foresaw the following one would be much the same, all the way up to Christmastime when he would get a week off, a week in which he knew he would only be waiting for the work to start up again.

Thomas thought of that week, that purgatorial stretch of time, of nothing to be done but sit and watch the storms roll by, wait as the snow on the ground accumulated each day, frosting over and glittering as the sun rose and fell. He knew it too would blur away and at the end of those seven days he would chip himself out of his icy tomb and return to work, return to the clockwork monotony, having accomplished nothing in all that free time.

A swift wind raced by, catching the ends of his scarf, snuffing out any warmth he’d felt only moments earlier. Thomas realized all at once he could not mark a distinct moment in the past three weeks, that it was all a murky gray slush, and that, if he was truly honest with himself, the rest of his winter would be just the same. He was caught between the gray weeks behind him and the grayer days yet to come.

Thomas was face to face with himself. Without his mind catching on, his body now stood only a foot away from the dark blue door of the bookshop, his long fingers hovering over the brass knob. He saw his reflection in the round window, his brown eyes dull and tired, skin pale and drab where it wasn’t blotchy from the cold, far too many lines around his drawn mouth for someone his age.

The glass fogged against the plumes of his sharp breaths, blurring his reflection away. The steam left only the words Blue Hour Books, hand-painted again, and the printed sheet of open hours visible. By his best guess, the store would still be open for another half hour.

Thomas hesitated. Part of him, the bone-tired and weary adult, insisted on stuffing his trembling hand back into the warmth of his pocket, continuing home, and ending his night just he had every other that week. And yet…

The street had become strangely quiet. There were no other pedestrians wandering about, no cars chugging along, which, while not entirely out of the ordinary for a midweek evening, only accentuated the cold stillness of the world, like it had paused on its axis to let him make his choice.

In his static and passive life, this quaint and peculiar bookshop had caught his attention, pulled him close and drawn him out of his haze of ennui. It felt like a turning point; he could diverge from the path to which he seemed bound or enter this haven of stories, of worlds yet to be explored. Some unseen force seemed quite keen for him to choose the latter.

The iciness of the brass clung to Thomas’ fingertips as he pushed the door open and entered Blue Hour Books, a gold bell chiming overhead.

The interior of the bookshop was quite curious indeed. The dark wood and details followed him in from the cold, and though it had appeared a rather modest space from the front, inside there was a different tale to tell. The walls were lined with deep shelves, with more dividing the middle of the store into three aisles just wide enough for two people to pass by each other and only gently knock elbows. They stretched the full, generous length of the building, and of course, were brimming with books.

Thomas removed his glasses, wiped the fog from the lenses, and replaced them once more so he could take in every detail; the rich cherry wood shelves, the Persian runners layered across the hardwood floors, the vintage light fixtures dripping with pale golden light. The scent of old paper and something spiced and warm permeated the air. Now inside, he caught glimpses of the back wall of the store between the towering shelves, no maze of twists and turns to be found, and yet still it seemed remarkably long.

He was spellbound, the chill gone from his body and the worries sapped from his mind. He chose to bask in it. Thomas wandered down the aisles, meandering and soaking in the warmth as his fingers floated reverently along leatherbound tomes, fresh paperbacks waiting to be cracked open, gold foiling and painted spines. As he moved further down the shelves, the hand-written labels transitioned from the expected to topics more niche than he figured practical. In delicate script, Fantasy and Horror and Mystery gave way to Nordic Fairy Tales and Vampire Lore: 1800-1899 and Medieval Cooking Methods. The deeper he traversed, the stranger the labels became, some so long they ran the full length of the shelf. Labels like The First Swim at the Beach the Summer You Turned Eleven and How to Prepare in Likely Event the Stars Come Crashing to Earth and Things Lost and Found and Lost and Found Again.

Thomas paused at this last section. It spanned only one shelf and was filled edge to edge with books of varying heights and widths. It was as normal as any other section in the bookshop, save for the fact that every single book that sat on it was a shade of blue. Cornflower, sapphire, midnight, one the blue-green of an angry sea, another the sweet, soft blue of a baby’s nursery. No titles or author’s initials were emblazoned on the spines, no hint to be found as to the contents of any of the peculiar books.

How curious, he wondered.

“Quite!” Thomas started, eyes searching for the source of the low, scratchy voice. Up till that moment, he believed himself the only occupant of the bookstore, and so was slightly surprised to find an elderly man standing behind the checkout counter. Thomas thought it strange he hadn’t heard the man moving about and stranger still he had spoken a response to Thomas’ thoughts. Of course, the only reasonable answer was that he had muttered the words aloud, and yet as he looked at this man with his halo of white hair and silver beard, his round glasses and faded blue cardigan, he couldn’t help but let his mind wander to more enchanting reasoning.

Thomas approached the counter, a handsome structure of even more dark cherry wood and inlaid with sweeping swirls and whorls that seemed to tell a story of their own. At least, that’s what the surface visible implied. Books were scattered and piled in a haphazard sort of chaos, yet Thomas felt that if he asked, the man before him would know exactly each book where it lay and why.

“Nothing caught your eye?” the man asked.

“Um, yes. No! Well…” Thomas sputtered, suddenly embarrassed to be standing empty handed before this kind-eyed stranger. His mind raced, scrambled to find the right words to prolong his visit and at the same time express his sincerest gratitude for the building’s existence and the delight it had brought to his dismal evening. The best the frazzled thing came up with was, “I just… I wondered if you might have any recommendations.”

The man’s face lit up. “Of course! I consider one of the greatest joys of my profession to be aiding others in finding their perfect story, whatever that might mean. So…”


“Thomas,” the man repeated, a warm smile spreading across his face. “What are you looking for in a book this evening?”

He considered the question but the longer he thought on it, the more it seemed the chill outside had seeped back into his bones. He thought not only of the things he sought out in a book, but of everything else and more he desired in his life; companionship, passion, warmth, light, adventure, change. The lights seemed to dim, the richness of the wood dulling, the rugs fraying, all before his very eyes.

Yes, this evening he may leave the shop with a book tucked in his elbow, but he knew that after it would more than likely sit on his nightstand and accumulate a fine layer of dust over the next week. It would be lost to the routines from which he could not break free, swept out of sight in the certain uncertainty of the days to come.

“I’m not sure,” he said quietly. “I’m not sure if what I need can be found in a book.” Thomas felt an uncomfortable warmth climb up his throat and tinge the tips of his ears, the humiliation at such sincere vulnerability with a perfect stranger making itself known.

Yet the old man seemed far from uncomfortable. As he laid his long fingers on the counter and leaned forward, he appeared quite sympathetic. “Terrible things, aren’t they? Feelings, emotions. Loneliness, worry, anxiety, misery, sorrow, pah! What’s the use?” The man grinned, a mischievous twist in his gaze. “But without any of those, we wouldn’t have any of this, now, would we?”

Thomas blinked. “I don’t understand.”

“This, Thomas!” The man gestured excitedly behind Thomas. He meant, of course, the books, which appeared to be nothing more than glue and ground up tree pulp to him, the wonder of his evening quickly dwindling away.

“Books? We wouldn’t have books if people weren’t miserable?”

The old man only smiled. “Not quite. I don’t buy into that idea that artists must suffer for their work to be any good, no matter how popular the theory seems to be with young people these days.” He tutted and shook his head, utterly befuddled with the state of today’s youth.

“But that’s just the magic of stories, isn’t it?” the man continued. “Someone, somewhere, in some blip in time felt exactly as you do now, Thomas. In fact, I’m certain many have, though only a brave few went on to write it all down, to suffer the torture of committing to paper their most brittle and brutal thoughts to be shared with the world. Yet because they did, someone, somewhere, in some later blip in time will find their story and feel just a little less alone, a little less miserable. Books can let a person feel seen and heard, even if the author is someone you have not and never will meet in your lifetime.”

The man touched the book nearest him with a look of such awe in his face that Thomas couldn’t help but lean in to hear the next words so softly spoken. “Books are human connection made real, made tangible, and that’s the most special kind of magic of all. Wouldn’t you say so?”

“Well,” Thomas said. “When you put it that way.”

The old man chuckled. “My apologies. I’ve been told I can get quite sappy if someone doesn’t put a stop to my ramblings. And I’m sure you knew all that already, a smart young man like you. Now, Thomas, let’s see about getting you your story.” The man looked about the store for only a moment or two before delivering an excited “ah!” and shuffling around the counter. He went straight for the little shelf of blue books, a single finger trailing along the spines. Seconds later, he approached Thomas with a perfectly average looking book in his hands.

“Here,” he said. “This is your story.”

Thomas took the book from the man’s wrinkled hands. It was velvet soft to the touch and dense in his grip, the cover as blank as its spine. It was a dark yet vibrant blue, the kind of blue you only sometimes catch during sunsets. Up close, he could see a slight shimmer to the material, a near silver shine at certain angles.

“Thank you,” Thomas said. “How much is it?”

“No charge.”

“Oh, no. Really, I can’t just take this, it must have cost a fortune to make.” Thomas realized during his inspection the object must have been handmade and wondered if he was so lucky to be holding a one-of-kind objet d'art.

The old man raised his hands in refusal. “I insist. All I ask is that you return at some point to my humble little shop to share with me your thoughts on it.”

Thomas no longer thought the shop humble or little. He could not remember the last time he had set foot in a place so lovingly curated. He looked to the shelves once more and now saw them for what they were, these grand halls which housed and honoured the phenomena that were books, that were stories, that were objects of magic made real.

“Thank you,” Thomas repeated, hoping the words could hold and carry every ounce of appreciation he sent the bookshop owner’s way.

The man only nodded and turned to move back behind the counter.

“One last thing,” Thomas said. The owner paused and faced him again. “The name of this store, ‘Blue Hour Books’, what does it mean?”

“Are you familiar with the term golden hour?” the old man asked.

Thomas shook his head.

“When the sun rises and sets, there is a point where its light hits the Earth at such an angle that the world appears golden.” The man started to drift towards the counter again. “It’s a popular time of day for photographers, eager to cast their subjects in that bright light. I personally always found golden hour slightly saccharine, at times too aggressive in its boldness.

“Blue hour, however, is different. It occurs a little bit before and a little bit after golden hour. Blue hour is unique, not as deep as twilight nor as delicate as dusk, it exists as an in-between. A transitional period between night and day that lasts at most thirty minutes, where the past is already behind you and the future is unimportant. Many things can happen in in-betweens.

“But what does this have to do with books, you might ask.” The man now stood before a door which Thomas had not noticed until this point, though part of him wondered if the door had only just appeared, deciding now as good a time as any to reveal itself. “Books are simply another kind of in-between, in-between time and space, in-between worlds quite like our own or entirely reimagined. There is a sacred magic to in-betweens that is shared across blue hour and books.”

Thomas stood out in the cold once more, a book tucked into his elbow, and the world was cast in blue. A violet blue, a vivid blue, the blue of a world not quite ready for nightfall, yet content to let the day go. Thomas stood in the snow, and knew that though he was certain to have gray days again, he would forever be on the look out for the blues in-between. 

December 17, 2022 04:43

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Anna E. Walters
15:27 Dec 23, 2022

Your story reads like a dream. Beautiful! I love your description that books are "...objects of magic made real." YES!!! I would love to know more about the shimmering blue book the old man selected for Thomas. Perhaps this could be the start of a wonderful novel... :-).


C. J. Peters
16:19 Dec 23, 2022

A novel could be pretty magical, couldn't it? Maybe we'd follow Thomas and discover more about his story, or maybe we'd meet other people who need the bookshop and a recommendation from its kind owner. Who knows! Thank you so much for your lovely comment!


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Katy B
03:45 Dec 23, 2022

This is such a beautiful concept. I think you had a lovely take on the prompt; it feels like something I've read or watched or imagined a million times in the best way possible. Thank you for sharing!


C. J. Peters
16:16 Dec 23, 2022

Thank you, and thank you so much for commenting!


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Wendy Kaminski
21:30 Dec 18, 2022

Wow, I love the concept/description of "the blue hour," here, and this story showcased it perfectly. This was exceptional storytelling, and I truly enjoyed it! You have a gift for making setting come alive!


C. J. Peters
23:57 Dec 18, 2022

Thank you so much! I really appreciate that! I've always loved blue hour as a concept and I felt it was just the perfect fit for the prompts this week. I'm glad I was able to make it all come to life!


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