A bell chimes above her as Katy pushes open the old wooden door that leads into Silo’s Books and Curios. She had finally found the small, almost invisible, shop tucked in between a craft store to its right and a health food store to its left. It would have been easy to walk by had you not been expressly looking for it, as Katy had been.
Katy looks up at the sound, surprised to see not a brass shopkeeper’s bell, but two silver bells that look as though they have just been cut from Santa’s sleigh. The crystal-clear ringing of the bells hangs in the stale air of the otherwise quiet shop long after she shuts the door and cautiously steps within. The lights are dim and the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with tall, rickety shelves. And every inch of every shelf is stuffed, corner to corner, with books! Old books, new books, soft and hard-cover books, picture books, and old boring-looking books. Books, books, books, as far as the eye can see, more books than she has ever seen before.
In Katy’s house, where she lives with her mom and dad, all of her parents’ books are kept in a very special glass case, and she is not, under any circumstance, to touch them. Her mom says they are precious and to be treated with respect and that she can read them when she is older. Her dad calls them expensive and not for little girls and their grubby, sticky hands.
But these books aren’t behind any glass. They are just sitting here, waiting to be held, to be touched, to be read. Katy looks around the shop suspiciously, curious that no one else seems to be here. After a moment, and moving very carefully, she makes her way to the bookshelf closest to her, raises her hand very slowly, and stretches her fingers towards the books.
“Fancy an adventure, do you?” a voice says mysteriously from somewhere in the darkness behind her. Katy pulls her hand back and spins around, looking horrified as a tall, slender, and bearded man makes his way out of the shadows in the corner of the bookshop. He appears to be very old.
“I’m…I’m very sorry,” Katy stammers, as she takes a step backwards, away from the tall man, whom she assumes is Silo, the name on the sign above the door. At least she hopes it is. She bumps into the shelf behind her, and an old, expensive-looking book tumbles from its home and lands heavily at her feet. “I shouldn’t have tried.…”
She stops talking as she looks up at the old man and he stares back at her, and for a moment she considers running to the door. Just then the old man tilts his head back and laughs, loudly and heartily. There is something special about him, but Katy isn’t sure what it is. Before she has a chance to say anything else, Silo takes two long strides towards her and bends down to pick up the book. He flips it over and inspects its cover as he stands back up straight.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, eh?” he asks, smiling again, “fancy a ride down the Mississippi, do you?” He holds the old book out to Katy, but she doesn’t take it; in fact, she is scared to be even close to it.
“I shouldn’t,” she says, looking up at the old man cautiously. “It looks expensive.”
“Pshhh,” Silo exclaims as he pushes the book into her hands. “Books are for reading, young lady, not for coddling. I implore you, please, take a look.” Before she can protest any further, he walks away towards the old cash register at the back of the shop, leaving her with the Twain classic clutched tightly to her chest. When he reaches the counter, he turns around and looks back at her.
“Open it up; you may be surprised by what you see.” He smiles slightly, and Katy sees a small twinkle in his eye before he bends over the counter and begins to scribble on some papers. She watches him for a second longer before returning her attention to the book still clasped in her small hands. Very carefully, she opens it at random, somewhere in the middle. What she sees next makes her gasp in surprise.
In the middle of the page, where Katy expects to see words, and sentences, and paragraphs, there is instead something that looks like a cross between a picture frame and a small, rectangular television set. At first she thinks it is a picture, but when she looks more closely she sees that it is moving. She can see a large river and after a moment two young boys on a small wooden raft paddling along the shoreline. She moves her face so close to the page her nose is almost touching it as she watches the small raft bounce along in the current. The boys on the raft turn and wave, smiling widely at her.
“You could join them, if you like,” Silo says quietly from across the room. Katy looks up from the book and sees that the old man is looking at her again, a smile on his face. The twinkle in his eye is still there.
“What do you mean?” Katy asks, glancing between Silo and the book, watching the boys continue to make their way down the great Mississippi.
“I mean, you could dive right in,” he says, “take part in their grand adventure. It has only just begun.”
She says nothing for a minute as she continues to stare into the book, watching the boys she holds in her hands make grand plans for their day. After a minute, she looks back up towards the counter.
“I can’t swim,” she says shyly, as she carefully closes the book. “I’d be too scared to try.”
“Well, that’s all right,” the old man exclaims as he bounds out from behind the register. He rushes past Katy towards a bookshelf on the other side of the shop. He pauses there, one hand on his hip and the other on his chin as he looks up and down the rows of books.
“AHA!” he cries and reaches high above his head and snatches another book from its home. He hurries over to her holding the book out in front of him. “Have you ever wanted to explore the cosmos?”
“The what?” Katy asks incredulously, looking up at him with a questioning expression.
“The cosmos,” he repeats, “Space!” He stoops down and holds out the book. It is the most chewed up, dog-eared, poorly treated book Katy has ever seen, but she is able to read the cover, faded though it is.
“A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Eagle,” she reads, looking up at Silo as she carefully pronounces the author’s name.
“Madeleine, yes, perfect.” He flips the book open and once again Katy sees, instead of words, a small frame with something inside of it. She peers carefully inside and sees three young children, two boys and a girl, standing at the edge of a forest in the dark, appearing to be scared but also relieved as they look out at a large house just past the trees. As Katy watches, the young girl turns and gives her and the old man a small nod and a little smile before returning her attention to her friends. The two boys don’t seem to notice them.
“You could tag along if you like. Meg, Charles, and Calvin are travelling the galaxy, trying to save their father. I’m sure they would be happy to have you.”
Katy watches the page for another moment as the three children leave the forest and head towards the large house. Then she turns and looks up at the old man again.
“I can’t go to space,” she says, looking nervous. “I haven’t brought a coat with me. I would be so cold.” She wraps her arms around her shoulders, as if she could already feel the freezing, desolate vacuum of space all around her.
“Not a worry, not a worry!” Silo says, and the old book snaps closed in his hands, causing dust to fly up in the air between him and Katy. He places the book on top of a pile of others, sitting atop a very wobbly, spindly-looking table. He then begins to turn on the spot as he surveys the shop, hand once again on his chin, fingers weaving delicately through his beard as he does. After a moment he crouches down and pulls a book from the lowest shelf.
“Now here is one that may be just a little bit warmer if that’s what you’re looking for,” he says with a wink, as he hands the leather-bound book to her.
Katy takes the book carefully from his outstretched hands and looks down at the cover. It is very old but in remarkably good condition. It is black, with large, gold embossed letters on the front.
“The Jungle Book,” she reads, running her finger over the name, feeling the gold beneath her fingers. “It’s beautiful.”
“Just wait until you get inside,” Silo replies, grinning at her out of the corner of his mouth.
Moving very slowly and being careful to touch only the edges of the pages, Katy opens the book. At first she can’t see much of anything at all, just a dense forest, tree after tree covered with a thick blanket of green leaves and vines. Slowly but surely, however, the jungle starts to thin and before long she can see a clearing ahead. There is a stream with a fallen tree lying across it. Suddenly, a young boy, wearing only a small loincloth around his waist (Katy averts her eyes for a second before remembering it’s a book) hops onto the log and begins to walk across it, holding his arms out for balance. Right behind him, a large bear follows. He doesn’t look like he is chasing the boy, but just following along. Taking up the rear a large, black panther prowls nearby, looking as if it is just out for a leisurely stroll.
“It certainly is beautiful,” Katy remarks to Silo, who is still standing beside her, high above her shoulder, as he also peers into the book. He says nothing, but points down at the page, smiling. As Katy looks back she sees a giant python winding its way down a tree towards the three friends. It turns its head slowly to look at Katy and the old man before flicking its tongue at them. Katy snaps the book shut.
“Snakes?! I can’t stand snakes!” she says, pushing the book quickly back into Silo’s hands. “I could never go on an adventure in a jungle!”
“I see,” Silo replies, with no hint of disappointment on his face. He takes the book she has just thrust on him, carefully walks back to the shelf, and gently squeezes it into its home. Then he turns back to her and smiles once again.
“Then, my dear, the question is: What kind of adventure would you like to go on?”
Katy looks back at Silo for a minute, unsure of what to say. She gazes around the bookshop, books as far as her eyes can see. Adventures, mysteries, love and romance. They are all at her fingertips, but yet….
“I want to have my own adventure!” she exclaims, thrusting her hands high above her head. “My own adventure that takes me places that I never thought I could go, to see things I never thought I could see. Full of surprises and magic.” She spins in a circle, but then suddenly stops and stares at Silo again before adding, “But no snakes.”
Silo looks at her carefully, so carefully in fact it seems as though he is trying to look right through her.
“Sir, are you okay…” Katy asks, sounding concerned, afraid that she has upset the old shopkeep, but just then Silo’s magical grin returns as he spins on his heel and walks back to the wooden counter where his cash register sits. He ducks out of sight, and as Katy approaches the counter she can hear him rummaging behind it. Before she can say anything, he reappears, wearing the same magical smile upon his lined face.
“Well, I think I’ve found it,” he says, the twinkle in his eye shining brighter than ever.
“Found what?” Katy asks, searching his face for an answer. She finds none, but Silo doesn’t keep her waiting long.
“The perfect book for you,” he replies, and from behind his back he reveals a small, white book. It looks neither old nor new. It’s perfect. He places it close to his heart for a moment and then without another word holds it out for Katy to take. After a second’s hesitation, she reaches up and slips it delicately from his fingers.
She looks down at the small book and finds there is nothing on the cover. No picture or any writing adorns it. She flips it over and discovers that the back is just as blank as the front. Then, very slowly she opens the book to the middle. To her surprise, the page is completely empty. She flips from page to page and finds them all without a mark.
“It’s completely empty,” Katy says, trying not to sound disappointed. “There’s no adventure in here at all.”
“Well, of course not, dear,” Silo says, his face breaking into a wide smile as he gazes down at her, his long beard twitching with delight. He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls something out, but before Katy can see what it is he stretches out his long arms and holds the mysterious object in front of her. It is a pure gold fountain pen, with her name engraved on its side. The name she had never told him.
“You haven’t written it yet.”
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Hey Matt! Congratulations on the shortlist! I can see why this story was on it. It's been so fun to read other people's responses to this prompt, especially all of the similar details. It seems a lot of us pictured the dinging bell at the shop's entrance! It is a staple, a mark of home for those of us who still physically visit those magical brick and mortars. This story is quite magical, indeed. I think we can all relate to wanting to jump right into a story - you've highlighted several of my favorite books in here, but even I would be sc...
Thank you for your lovely comment Anne, I’m touched that you enjoyed it. I read your story “Your Elm Tree” just the other day, and it affected me deeply. You have a gift.
That means so much to me, thank you. You have a gift as well, seeing that all of your submissions have made it to the shortlist. I'm putting "Personal Growth" on my to-be-read list! Wishing you a happy holiday season!
not bad my kids love it thanks so gods
i'm following pls follow my account
I write for kids. I found the story really beautiful. The end is cool. It will encourage a child reader to pen down his own story.
This is a wonderfully written story. Great way to show magic of books and places they can transport you. The DayDreaming Podcast would love to feature this story on our podcast. Reach out to us if you are interested. Instagram: @daydreamingpodcast email: email@example.com
i love it . it is type of book i would write because it is kinda mysterious. like i couldnt tekll whethee the man was trying to trick katy or give her an experience of a lifetime
Thank you, Skye. You never know what you’ll get when you choose to enter an old bookstore.
I thought you did such a great job building the world of the bookshop. I could see it with total clarity. Wonderful story.
Thank you, Kevin. I’m glad you were able to immerse yourself.
Really love Silo's warm-hearted, almost fatherly characterisation and the magical way you presented the bookshop! A positively alluring story and much deserved shortlist - congrats Matt :)
Thank you, Sav. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Fine work Matt. Congrats. You seem to know how to do this.
Thank you, Philip!
You are welcome.
You are welcome.
You are welcome.
Beautiful story. Would make a lovely illustrated children’s book.
Very cool story, and especially that ending! :)
Thank you, Wendy!