Nothing was better at the end of a long day than a glass of scotch and a good book next to a warm fire. Gregory was very much looking forward to it. He locked the door to his used bookstore, The Second Page and strolled through his shop scrutinizing titles. He lingered on a thriller for a moment, eyeing the creases in its spine, before moving on to the next shelf. He did a double take at a smaller sized book placed on a stack next to the shelves.

Gregory didn’t know ever book in his store personally but this one was unique enough he would have made more of it. The book was bound in black leather with a winding, twisting pattern relief reminiscent of Celtic art along all sides. In the center of the front cover relief was a flower. It reminded him of a lily, but more exotic. Gregory, his interest piqued, smiled as he picked up the book and ascended the back stairs to his living area.   

Once he was all set, scotch in one hand, the book in the other, and work shoes exchanged for slippers, he easier into the recliner next to the gas fireplace already toasting up the room. Gregory took a moment to look out the window over the Pennsylvania borough and watch the sunset. The perfect end to a cold winter day.

He took a sip, settled in, and opened the curious little book.


Mercedes moved out of the room and closed the door as quietly as she humanly could. The end of another day. She stood next to the now closed door, releasing a long slow breath, and enjoyed the evening silence.

Mercedes eventually moved along the hallway to the kitchen. She finished washing what dishes were left from diner her husband couldn’t do and started preparing tomorrow’s lunch for the children.

Her husband had been working midnight shifts for the last two months and would continue for the next three. It had out a strain on the house and the family but the increased income from the change was worth it. Mercedes was able to buy new school cloths and supplies for the kids, the leak in the roof had finally been repaired, and the husband smiled more. Not to mention at the end he was guaranteed a promotion that would move them closer to family, a much-needed move.

Mercedes’ husband had confided to her that he finally felt less a failure and more a proper father and provider. Mercedes had to admit he was a renewed man, too. More upbeat, more energetic, and much more intimate. She smiled and rolled her eyes a bit at that last thought while putting the last lunch tin in the small refrigerator.

She was happy for him, and he helped when and where he could. Cooking breakfast and dressing the kids in the morning so she could sleep a little more. Caring for the six-year-old and the twins alone was taxing none the less.

She reclined on the thick comforter draped over the threadbare couch, yawning, and reminding herself that this would pass, and all would be well. After saying her nightly prayer she attempted to sleep. It was elusive at best. Mercedes was exhausted beyond sleep, her mind racing. She gave up and reached for a small black book.

It was one her mother had, and she read it now and again to ease her mind. The Celtic patterned covering was also a pleasant texture, like being able to feel the stories as well as see them.

Mercedes yawned again and opened the book.


Eugène Lamarre closed the window shade as the plane climbed into the clouds. He looked about the business class seating area absently, going back and forth in his mind on weather to order a beer or coffee when the time came.

He eventually settled on the beer and maybe some rest. After two successful negotiations for partnership his dream of standing up a nation-wide energy business was coming to fruition. Seemed like a good time for a well-earned treat. It would be quite some time until arriving and the last flight out meant no one else was awake to continue business.

Beer in hand and collar loosened Eugène imagined the next and final encounter, the most important as well, as it would enable him to expand his dream and life’s work into western Canada. Man made thermal energy plants capable of tapping the earth’s own heat and using it for forty percent of the nation’s energy requirements – quite a feat.

He ordered one more drink and pulled out a small parcel wrapped in plain brown paper with a purple bow string. A small gift from his wife and daughter. He liked to save their gifts for the return trip but now seemed like a good time.

Inside was a small black book with raised bumps set in winding, circular patterns. A strange flower was centered on the front. A card was tucked into the first few pages. He opened the card and read.

“Good luck papa, we love you.” – Marie

Eugène smiled, his daughter was getting much better with written English. He placed the card back in his case, reclined, and opened the book.


Dragan readjusted the sights on the machine gun and sighted down the road at a line of traffic. His maintenance checks complete he reloaded the weapon and waved to his watch sergeant the same. The sergeant at the gate house gave a curt nod and returned to some other duty.

The main gates to the NATO headquarters closed as the first convoy of the day left. Another day of guard duty began. All in all, it wasn’t terrible, I really could be worse. He could have had to go south where every coalition base was attacked with artillery daily. Here, it was quite and routine. It was just tedious and boring, but his sergeant told him those are the best duties and Dragan trusted the man.

The other Macedonian soldier on shift was at the other side of the gate. Jakov was a decent sort, he tended to play his music a bit too loud at night, but ear plugs helped with that. Otherwise, he was easy to talk with and always quick with a joke or two. Jakov held up two cigarettes and brought one over when Dragan nodded appreciatively.

Near the end of the day, with their shift almost over, the last of the group to leave the compound in the center of Kabul were milling around the gate. A small group of American soldiers that walked the streets when just about everyone else drove. Dragan didn’t understand much of what they said, his English was rudimentary at best, but they would always enthusiastically great him on their way in and out.

When they had learned his name, they thought it meant ‘dragon’ like the beast. And they pronounced it like the beast too. Dragan didn’t mind though; it was fun to be called a dragon and the way they said it boosted his confidence. Despite the inability to talk the group would also play music for the Macedonian soldiers and then ask them for their “best song” in return. It made the weeks go by a little quicker.

When the group walked out the gate, shouting his nickname while flexing and laughing, the Macedonians relaxed some, removing their helmets and sitting together in the sergeant’s booth. The last two hours were spent there, as no other group had permission to enter or leave after this hour and any exception would come with three days advance notice.

Dragan pulled out a new book from the small library his countrymen donated to their detachment here. An interesting little black leather book with many bumps all over. He opened the book, enjoying the end to another uneventful day.


The countess of Savoy strolled along the dark corridors of their hosts’ manor. At this late hour, very little was happening, and she was happy with that, preferring to be alone with her thoughts and restlessness. She turned down an adjoining hallway with stained glass windows glowing from the moonlight, barely interrupted by the three candelabras spaced along the opposing wall.  

The countess always struggled with sleep the first night anywhere new. Either the room was too hot or too cold, the noises of night creatures were off, her husband snored too loudly, and so on. Instead of laying in eternal frustration fighting for rest, she found roaming about to help her mood and ready herself for sleep far more productive.

The countess stopped to study her reflection on the breastplate of decorative armor in the colorful shadows from the stained-glass windows. She appreciated the gilding along the armors edges before turning back towards the hallway.

Nearing the end of the hallway she saw a low firelight reaching through the spaces between the door and wall. Trying the handle, she found the door unlocked, and opened it to find a sizable room of antiques, books, and curiosities. She studied a map from thirty years ago depicting the coasts of the new world, then turned her attention to a bronze short sword resting on a standard that was supposed to be Alexander the Great’s personal one from his Persian campaign.

The countess then picked a book at random and moved to stand closer to the candles on the reading desk. She studied the book’s black leather and binding, wondering at the flower relief, when a servant came in to douse the candles. She started at the countess’s presence, then then began to apologize but the countess cut her short with a soft wave of her hand and a gentle smile. She told the young woman she would deal with the candles when sleep finally found her and sent the woman on her way.

Returning to the book in her hands she gently opened it to the first page.


Gregory opened the shop like every other day. The first few hours he spent sweeping, stacking books, and taking inventory. A few individuals killed around the stacks, and it was just any other day.

A young man stepped in with a box, more than likely a collection of books he wanted to sell. Gregory moved to the register and waved him over.

“Morning! Bit of early spring cleaning,” the man placed the box on the counter.

Gregory gave a polite nod and opened the box. He pulled out the first three and stopped, nearly dropping the books from the shock of what he saw. Gregory looked from the box to the man and back, excusing himself after a moment and ran upstairs to his reading room.

The curious black leather book was gone.

Gregory ran back to the front desk and, puffing from the exertion, asked the young man, “Have you read this book?” pulling a black leather-bound book with Celtic patterns and a strange flower on the cover out of the box. 

The man simply shook his head with a bemused smile. Gregory opened the book and flipped through the pages. He reread the story of the countess and flipped a few more pages. This time, Gregory noted with astonishment, a new chapter appeared after the countess’s story. A new chapter narrating the events of the night he found the book and read it upstairs.

February 25, 2023 04:58

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Wally Schmidt
03:50 Feb 28, 2023

Kudos to you for choosing what (I thought) was the most difficult prompt. I love the ending and wish it would happen in real life-a new chapter appearing at the end of the book. Wouldn't that be cool?


Shane Murray
22:13 Feb 28, 2023

Thank you, Wally, glad you enjoyed the story! This challenge did test me the most so far - I’m am definitely a story over form writer but this was a fun one to brain storm. And I agree, a book that accumulated stories would be quite a treat.


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Wendy Kaminski
21:24 Feb 26, 2023

This was really interesting and very complex, Shane - nicely done story for the prompt! Thanks for sharing it. :)


Shane Murray
22:08 Feb 28, 2023

Thanks, Wendy!


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Chris Mueller
03:23 Mar 03, 2023

Great story within a story within a story Shane. It looks like a lot of work. I really liked the black leather book tying them all together.


Shane Murray
05:30 Mar 11, 2023

Thank you Chris! I did have fun with this one.


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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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