The Cliffords of Crouch End: Philip's Little Library

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Write about a character stumbling upon a library book that changes the course of their life, for better or worse.... view prompt


Fantasy Friendship Historical Fiction

Philip’s Little Library

Juicy Jokes and Buttered Books

For some children, having a birthday proximal to Christmas is a curse. For members of the Clifford family, it meant double the celebration. Even though Leo and Mildred Clifford were folk of modest means, they always made sure that each of their many children, both adopted and biological, received special acknowledgment on their birthday.

Nancy, the eldest of the lot, had been born on December 12, 1931. She shared a birthday with her two youngest brothers. Gerry was born on December 12, 1951, and Paul was born on December 12, 1953. Nancy generally came home for a visit every year near her birthday, staying on until after the New Year, bringing along her ten-year-old twins, Nona and Cassius.

The yearly visit was so greatly anticipated that Nona and Cassius now asked that part of the gift allotment for their November 10 birthday be set aside for the December 12 celebration. Nancy’s husband Cecil Theseus was a popular bandleader and jazz musician who often brought exciting mementos back from his trips around the world.

Cecil liked to be present for the annual festivities. This year, however, he had a series of important concerts throughout Italy and had to catch a taxi to Heathrow at three in the morning. He left his children and young brothers-in-law ten pounds apiece and a cheery note inviting them to procure “juicy jokes and buttered books and whatever else you may wish on your special day.”

The older relatives advised the youngsters to save at least a pound from their windfall and admonished them not to ruin their appetite for dinner that evening. They then turned the children loose to enjoy themselves in the multitude of odd shops that Crouch End had to offer.

Nona fretted that Daddy seemed to have forgotten to give Mummy a gift and offered to split her money with Nancy. Nancy reassured Nona that her gift was being able to spend time with her family and that Daddy gave her lovely little gifts throughout the year. Satisfied with this explanation, Nona joined her brother and uncles and headed for Philip’s Little Library, a quaint used bookstore on Jasmine Place.

A bell over the doorway jingled when the children entered Philip’s shop. The woodsy scent of potpourri didn’t quite cover the smell of fish. Like many of Crouch End’s shopkeepers, Philip Young lived above his business. His love for seafood insured that his shop always smelled a bit like a fishmonger’s market.

“Oi, Phillip, you in?” Paul called.

“Course ‘e’s in, eedjit,” Gerry groaned, rolling his eyes. “Shop’s open, innit?”

“Don’t call me an eedjit, ya numpty,” Paul shot back. “’E might of stepped over ter Miyamoto’s.”

Fizzy Treats and Powdered Elephant Ears

Before Nona could admonish her uncles not to fight, a slender, middle-aged man with a round, bald head, a grayish-green complexion, a wide, flat nose, and a nearly lipless mouth strode from the back room into the main shop. He greeted the youngsters with a warm smile, revealing a mouthful of close-set, crooked teeth.

“Terp o' de mornin’ ter yous youngstis and a gewd couple made-up retins o' de dee,” the Deep One hybrid chuckled. “Bless yer ma, ay see she's sent gewdies along. Bright, dee oughta join de fizzy treats and elephant flappers in de back rewm. We'll settle oselves fe a morsel and dun yous god-forbids may select a birthdee gift.”

Paul and Gerry eagerly followed Philip, setting the thermos of tea and a bag of oatmeal cookies on the table. Being less familiar with their host, Nona and Cassius trailed behind. They became more at ease as Philip ushered them into his cozy back room.

The fizzy treats proved to be six bottles of Corona sodas: cream, cherryade, ginger, limeade, lemonade, and orangeade. The “elephant ears” were big fried pastries dusted with cinnamon sugar made by Mrs. Oda’s bakery on Quince Street. There were also tuna and egg salad sandwiches made by Mr. Osamu Miyamoto of Miyamoto’s Café on Apple Blossom Terrace, located just across the alley from Philip’s shop.

“Miyamoto sends 'is regards,” Philip stated. “’E wishes 'e could be e'yer ter join this little party, but 'e needs ter get ready fe de lunch juge. Ay keep tell'n 'im ter 'ire more ellp, but eez an owd cheapskate.”

“He's jist shrewd,” Gerry countered, taking a bite of a tuna salad sandwich, and savoring the nip of wasabi that Mr. Miyamoto included in his recipe. “Bein' puir makes a fellaw techt wi' his bunsens. Maw aye says 'at da woods hae worked himself tae death by noo if th’ laird hadnae seen fit tae send heem built-in help in th' form ay several able-bodied sons.”

“Yeah, but noo 'at us yoonger ones ur back in skale an' th' older ones ur involved in business ay their ain, da finally gae in tae maw an' Diane an' hired an assistant,” Paul said around a mouthful of elephant ear.

“Dorn’t gab wi' yer gob foo an' hae a piece of sandwich afair ye fill yerself wi' sweets,” Gerry admonished.

“Yes mum,” Paul quipped, rolling his eyes.

“Se, ay kun yer dad's assistant. Dane Savage is a sound fella. 'E 'elped me fix up de plumb'n in this place fe a song and a few bewks. Eez a smart chap, enjoys read'n crime and mystiy stories. Anyways, I've a nicked shipment o' bewks dat juss arrived and ay saved aside a few dat yous might be intiested in. We'll blimp dem over afti lunch.”

“Maw an' gran said tae remin' ye 'at yoo're invited tae our celebration, Mr. Philip,” Nona said.

Windy Slopes and Flying Horses

A sudden gust rattled the windowpanes. Nona gave a startled gasp. Philip chuckled, patting her shoulder.

“Dat owd east wind snuck up ed us, didn't it?” he remarked, pouring more tea for his guests. “Dat weather chap says something’s blow'n in. Ah, wa' a delight it would be ter kettle de fly'n 'orses flapp'n about 'round de Rock in dat spot whuz de Cerenarian and Twilight seas meet. If yous get one o' dem fly'n ponies ter take yous fe a ride, yous may see Celephaïs er 'Lanith er Sarkomind er wherever you've a mind ter visit. Could yous guess which mug de fly'n 'orses like beesknees, youngstis?”

“Elephant ears!” Cassius suggested gleefully, stuffing a chunk of sweet pastry into his mouth.

“Dorn’t be riddy, Cass!” Nona scoffed. “Horses dorn’t eat pastry, they eat apples an' hay.”

“Bright, now, deez ay magic 'orses, lassie,” Philip explained.  “So, although dee love apples and 'ay, they also enjoy elephant flappers. De pastries, mind. Not real elephant flappers. Juss like regular 'orses, fly'n 'orses ay strictly vegetarian.”

“Ah dorn’t hink Ah coods stomach bein' a vegetarian,” Paul chuckled, patting his full belly. “Eh'd miss Mr. Miyamoto's tuna salad sandwiches tay much.”

“Ah coods bide quite happily oan Mr. Miyamoto's eeg salad sandwiches if Ah hud tae be a vegetarian,” Nona mused. “But Ah hae tae admit, eh'd miss his tuna salad sandwiches tay.”

With everyone’s hunger satiated, the celebrants wound their way to a storage room of inky blackness and the faintest glow of light from around the door. When Philip turned on the lamp, Gerry and Paul’s delight was palpable as they hurried to a stack of old tomes. Philip turned to Nona and Cassius.

“Yer uncles 'uv unique taste in read'n material,” the shopkeeper noted. “'Owsomever, ay am quite sound as a pound beak o' wa' me customers wul enjoy. Ler rus take a crack at it. Ed this forthcom'n night o' battened 'atches and big dippers, ay suspect dat young wack wul enjoy a thrill'n tale o' foam'n oceans and secret potions. Fe de discern'n miss, a tale o' masked mun and stolun kisses may fill de bill while yer uncles find their thrill in cursed puns and bleed'n linun. As fe owd Phil, I’ll bide me time wi' puffed pastries and bric-a-brac upon me return round os ternight.”

Philip handed Cassius a lavishly illustrated story featuring pirates and wizards in a thrilling adventure on the high seas while Nona received a gothic romance for young ladies complete with a haunted castle, a misunderstood hero, a plucky heroine, and plenty of eerie but not truly terrifying dark rooms and gloomy phantoms. The twins quickly became immersed in the books, forgetting even to thank their host for the gifts. Philip left Nona and Cassius to their literary journeys and turned his attention to Gerry and Paul.

The Tome of the Thousand-Faced Moon

“So, lads, which mystical writings 'uv called ter yous ed this occasion?” Philip inquired, noticing the boys poring over a book with a weathered black leather cover embossed with the image of a female gorgon surrounded by multiple moons. Paul signaled Philip to come closer.

“We’ve ten quid apiece, Phil,” Paul muttered conspiratorially. “We want thes book, but ma woods na lit us 'uv it, wa' wi' de Medusa's bosoms show'n an' aw.”

“It ainae th' Medusa's bosoms 'at maw woods caur abit,” Gerry countered. “She took us tae th' museum in London an' there's plenty ay paintings ay kimers wi' their bosoms showin' thaur. It's jist 'at maw dorn’t loch us diggin' tay deep intae Dreamlain magic an' we dorn’t want tae upsit 'er. Sae mebbe ye can help us fin' somethin' mair normal-like an' we'll slip 'roond an' pick thes book up later.”

“Gerry Clifford, whit hae Ah tauld ye abit keepin' secrets?”

The startled Gerry and Paul looked up to see their mother and older sister standing in the doorway of the storage room. Nona and Cassius ran to Nancy, embracing her.

“Look, Mum, Mr. Philip gave us wonderful books for our birthday,” Nona announced. “I got a lovely spooky romance and Cass has..."

“It's a magical pirate story,” Cassius finished. “See haur, there's th' pirate keptin Sammy an' his parrot an' that chap wearin’ the hood is th' wizard. They're aff seekin' a special treasure in th' jungle ay Kled.”

“Ay 'ope I've not caused any bother between yous and de lads, Mrs. Mildred, especially ed their birthdee,” Philip demurred. “Deez two 'uv always 'ad quite a keun sense about ancient lore, yous see, and...”

“Och, Philip, no-one's in trouble,” Mildred reassured the shopkeeper. “Ah ken Gerry an' Paul wish tae keep me frae worryin', but let's nae be sneakin' abit, loons. Ah ken ye hae th' secht. A fowk in dis clan diz, but it's strongest in th' pair ay ye. If ye coods hae seen th' dreams Ah hud when Ah was carryin' each ay these wee jimmies...ah, but we'd be haur aw efternuin. Noo, what's th' name ay thes moldy tome wi' th' picture ay Medusa sunbathin' ur whatever she's up tae?”

“This rite e'yer is de terme o' de thousand-faced mewn, missus,” Philip explained. “It wuz compiled in 1918 by an Irish druid priestess named Rhiannon Scherer. It's quite a fascinat'n bewk. It includes lore o' mewn goddesses from various pantheons and civilizations includ'n well-known goddesses such as Artemis and 'Ecate and lesser-known goddesses such as...”

“Mormo,” Paul interrupted, clapping his hand over his mouth as soon as he spoke. “Sorry tae interrupt, Philip. Sometimes mah thooghts jist ginger it ay mah gob. Gits me in Dutch at skale.”

“Bright, na yous mind, laddie,” Philip chuckled. “Luckily, we ain't at schewl.”

Downtrodden Doozies and Winded Waxers

“Ay think I'll close up early terdee,” Philip decided. “De only ones dat’s ikey ter wander into me shop in this blusti ay downtroddun dewzies and winded waxers. Ay can ellp yous lot prepare fe ternight's celebration if you'll 'uv me.”

“Ay coorse, Philip, ye awreddy hud an invitation,” Nancy said. “Aiblins ye can teel us mair abit thes book. Ah aye did enjoy studyin' mythology in skale, but I've ne'er heard ay Mormo.”

“Bright now, Miss Nancy, thuz is reference ter Mormo in yer Greek mythology, but she ain't one dat dee teach o' in schewl. She wuz firkin dat folks used as a bewgey ter frightun wayward god-forbids into obedience.”

“A hin' 'at hides beneath th' scratcher an' pinches yer toes, 'en,” Nancy speculated.

“Nancy, there's naught hidin' beneath beds, except a moggie ur a dug if a body has sic' a beast,” Mildred admonished, giving a slight tilt of her head towards the children.

“I'll grab me big terme o' mythology and entitain yous lot wi' a lesson er two,” Philip suggested, taking a big leather-bound book from a shelf near his register. “Dun we'll 'urry oselves along ter yer kun so we dun get blown away onna mighty gust.”

“Eh'd say that's a capital idea, Phil,” Paul remarked as the group stepped into the shrieking wind. “It feels loch aw th' winds hae teamed up tae blaw frae th' eest.”

“Paul Clifford, has Mr. Yoong given ye permission tae refer tae heem as Phil?” Mildred demanded.

“It's quite all rite, missus, deez youngstis ay me friends,” Philip declared as he locked the door. “I'd feel like a schewlmasti wuz dee ter refer ter me as Misti Young. While ay did complete some proper schewl'n, ay 'aven't a teach'n certification, so I’d not wish ter get up ther shute wi' de authorities fe pass'n myself off as a teacher.”

“Weel, as lang as it's guid wi' ye,” Mildred said. “Yoong fowk these days gie tay familiar wi' their elders tay quickly, especially in a big city loch London.”

“I've students come by from de university sometimes,” Philip said. “Quite a few of de mumtip, bewkish types, but sometimes thuz one wi' a blind bit o' blusti ter 'im, call'n me pop er daddy-o. Dee settle down quick whun de bewks take 'old o' dem.”

“Am quite lookin' forward tae learnin' mair abit thes Mormo,” Nancy said. “She looks tae be a gorgon. We learned a bit abit Medusa an' hoo Perseus lopped aff 'er heed an' used it tae turn his enemies tae stain. Ah thooght thes was quite an excitin' story, but raither shan tae Medusa.”

“Mormo ainae quite th' same as Medusa, Nan,” Gerry explained. “’’Er worshipers call 'er a goddess ay th' moon, but she's mair a vampire than a goddess like Artemis or such.”

Creepy Crud and Elmer Fudd

“Creepy crud an' Elmer Fudd, thes wind's gonna blaw us aw away tae Xura!” Paul blurted as a strong gust nearly blew him off his feet. “’At blest smelt loch a giant cut th' cheese!”

“Paul Roger Clifford, honestly!” Mildred admonished as she playfully punched her son’s shoulder. “Th' things ye come up wi'!”

“Sorry, maw, but 'at goost ay win' hud a fool reek abit it,” Paul demurred briefly before continuing his salty narrative. “It woods keep a Draug at bay thocht, wooldnae it, Ger? Dae ye ken th' story abit hoo tae gie a Draug tae lae yer boat, Philip? If yoo're ever it in a storm an' a Draug tries tae climb ontae yer boat, he'll lae if ye cut th' cheese.”

“Ah guess yoo'll be safe in a storm, Paul,” Cassius teased.

“Only if Ah take' ye alang wi' me,” Paul retorted, giving his nephew a playful shove. Cassius returned the shove, and a pushing contest quickly ensued.

“Reit, lads, nae rooghhoosin'!” Nancy admonished, separating the pair. “Ah dae hiner they didne start thes pish in yer shop, Mr. Philip.”

“Norra blind bit o' it, Miss Nancy,” Philip reassured her. “Dee wuz quite well-behaved. A sound as a pound bewk 'as qualities ter both invigorate and sewthe an unquiet mind, which is why ay surround meself wi' bewks.”

“Eh'd loch tae reid yer pirate book afair ye lae, Cass,” Paul said. “An' I'll bit Gerry wants tae reid Nona's romance book.”

“Weel, Ah woods, an' whit ay it?” Gerry shot back. “It's mair than a romance story, innit, an' ye ooght tae reid it tay. Eh'd also loch tae reid th' pirate book. If ye werenae sic' a divit, yoo'd ken 'at most onie book frae Phil's shop is gonna teach us somethin' abit th' Dreamlands.”

“Weel, Ah dae ken it. Ah also ken Ah can win' ye up easy peasy. Reit in mah sights an' pow, loch shootin' ducks in a barrel!”

“It’s shootin’ fesh in a barrel, eedjit!”

“No, it ain’t, ya nonce! When dae ye ever see a fesh in a barrel?”

“All the time at the bleedin’ fesh-monger. Why is yer brain up yer bum?”

“Mr. Philip, Ah hink 'at lesson abit Mormo is in order, ur mah sons' tenth an' twelfth birthdays main jist be their lest,” Mildred declared as she opened the door to the family home. “Gie in haur, ye loots, an' gonnae-no chasin' each other abit. Am curioos tae hear th' wild tales 'at uir guest has tae teel.”


This fictional version of London’s Crouch End borough is based on the 1980 short story by Stephen King and is not intended to be representative of the real Crouch End.

Philip is a Deep One hybrid. Deep Ones are the creations of H.P. Lovecraft. They were initially hinted at in his 1919 short story “Dagon” and were written about in detail in his 1931 novella “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

"Celephaïs" is a fantasy story by H. P. Lovecraft, written in early November 1920 and first published in the May 1922 issue of the Rainbow.

The vampire goddess Mormo appeared in H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Horror at Red Hook.” Mormo is also a female spirit from Greek mythology utilized as a bugbear to frighten disobedient children.

Prompts Used

Putting My Feet in the Dirt

Selected April writing prompts

April 30, 2021 15:20

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