A Tale of Endings

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

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Urban Fantasy Fiction Middle School

Cierra would have given anything to avoid going to the magical bookshop. Elodie had cornered her earlier and spilled a drink all over her uniform. The fellow student liked to pick on the late bloomers, like the girl who she had accosted. The ones whose magic had come in later than most. Cierra had only been transferred to the class for magical students two weeks ago. Yet, her uniform was already in need of replacement. Honestly, she was running out of excuses to tell her mother. Her tights had holes because she had slipped - not because she had been pushed. Her tie must have gone missing after gym - not because it had been stolen. The lies were piling up like weights in Cierra’s chest and to add insult to injury she would now have to go to the bookshop with a stain marking her as unfortunate. 

Still, it had to be done. Miss Basil had said that the report would be due by the end of the week. Cierra thought that was a rather short time frame. However, the teacher made up for it by saying they could write the report on any book they chose. She quickly handed them a piece of paper with the address to a nearby bookstore and sent them on their way to lunch. Elodie found Cierra fifteen minutes later.

So, after school, Cierra trudged to what the paper said was Mr. Arlisle’s Magical Bookshop with a stained uniform. The afternoon sun bared down on her hunched form. Her feet dragged against the ground until she stood before the entrance to the ivy-covered building. With a sigh, she swung open the wooden door - wincing at the tone of the silver bell that signaled her presence. It closed heavily behind her - leaving Cierra standing with slumped shoulders in the musty doorway. 

“Ah, young miss!” An old man said from behind a counter to her left. “I’m Mr. Arlisle, how are you today?” Cierra turned towards the man - her tired eyes and thinned lips speaking for her. The man shifted to look at her more closely from behind the piles of trinkets that obscured much of the desk. He glanced over her - very obviously noting the stain on her shirt with an audible “Oh.” The crow's feet near his temples stretched as his smile softened. Cierra passively noted the way his eyes sparkled in the yellow lighting. He raised one weathered hand to run it through his scraggly salt-and-pepper beard. “Well, I’ve always believed that a good book could brighten any day. May you choose the right book for you.” He indicated the bookshelves with a flourish of his hands, and suddenly all the books flew off the shelf. 

Within seconds, the building was full of life. Books of every size and color danced in the air as Cierra, with wide eyes, made her way toward the shelves. The novels twisted and turned as she came closer. Some with gold and silver etching glinting in the light. Others with fancy fonts scrawled across their covers. Red, green, blue, and so on contrasted with the brown shelves around them. As she moved, a small army of hard-bound books shot forward - crowding her in their levitating state. 

“Choose me!” A dark blue book in front of her said. “I’m a delightful story about superheroes who always save the day.” The book swung open - its pages puffing up in pride. Cierra simply stared - momentarily frozen in shock. The stain on her shirt was completely forgotten as she attempted to process the disembodied voice of the volume in front of her.

“No, no, darling, choose me!” Said another as it twirled into Cierra’s line of sight. “I’m a romance with two lovers who live happily ever after.” The pages of the book fluttered delicately as it spoke. 

“Uh,” Cierra murmured, unsure of what to say. Her feet shuffled against the carpeted ground. Wide brown eyes darted around as her mind slowly came to comprehend the living magic before her. 

“Don’t listen to them!” A robust book said as it slammed the other books away. “They are fantastical nonsense. I can provide you with true knowledge. I’m a historical text, you see.” The heavy-looking tome displayed its pages - each covered in a stiff font and monochrome diagrams. “I can provide you with knowledge about the achievements of those long since passed.” 

“Well, um,” Cierra rubbed her arm self-consciously as she came back to herself, “I don’t think I’m interested in any of those types of stories.” The books gasped - their pages gapping in shock. “Sorry,” she said hurriedly, “I don’t mean to offend. Maybe I’ll just look around?” A one-sided shrug punctuated the question-like statement. She squeezed her way through the levitating books - all of which floated behind her like a misshapen shadow.

“Are you sure?” Said the blue superhero novel. “Heroes make for magnificent protagonists.” The book’s tone spoke of confidence as it floated higher into the air.

“And romances are absolutely charming.” The romance novel said as it swayed by Cierra’s head as she walked amidst the many shelves. Her nose wrinkled as the musty scent grew stronger the further back they went.

“I don’t think I’m very heroic,” Cierra said as she glanced through the many books floating just above their spot on the shelves. Each waved its pages at her in greeting. “And I don’t think I’m well-suited to romance,” she added as she waved back. A small smile slipped on her face as she analyzed the cheery books before her. 

“We can teach you. That is our job, after all,” the historical book said. “No matter how whimsical some books are about it,” the text added as it turned its spine to the other two books crowding the girl. 

“No, thank you,” said Cierra. The books darted back a bit, their pages stilling in the air. That, however, gave the girl a view of a book on the last shelf in the very back of the shop. Its faded cover was wrapped in shadows and spiderwebs. The book’s still form differentiated it from the hovering books around her. She frowned and wondered why it did not come alive like the others. Curiously, she walked over.

“Oh, no.” Said the romance tale. “You do not want that one, miss.”

“I must concur,” the historical novel bobbed in agreement. 

Cierra stood in front of the bookshelf and leaned in close. Her brow furrowed. “Hello?”

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, slowly, the thin book straightened from where it had been leaning precariously. The shelf creaked as it moved. The text coughed - dust coming from the yellowed pages in a cloud. “H-hello,” it said in a scratchy voice. 

“It’s nice to meet you,” Cierra said with a tilt of her head. “What are you about?”

The book's pages trembled as it cautiously came to be suspended before her. “I’m an adventure novel.”

“A terrible adventure novel!” The romance sniffed with an outward flare of its pages - the sharp edges of the paper cutting through the air. 

“Why?” Cierra questioned as she watched as the little book’s pages curled inwards. She noted how the faded novel subtly shifted closer to the shadowed corner of the bookshelf - as if wishing to wrap itself in the protective barrier of cobwebs once more.

“It,” The superhero novel’s pages swung back and forth sharply, “doesn’t have a happy ending.”

The book’s pages curled in further, as all the books in the magical bookshop stilled for a fraction of a second. Then, the sound of paper shuffling around filled the air as a quiet murmur broke out. Each novel whispering in contemptuous shock about such a book being in their midst. 

Cierra, however, simply shrugged. “What’s wrong with that?” The books gapped once more - their pages so spread out that Cierra worried about their spines breaking. Even the little book had uncurled in its shock. “I mean,” Cierra continued, “you can still learn from a book that doesn’t have a happy ending.”

“But, my dear,” the romance exclaimed, “wouldn’t you rather learn from a book that brightens your day with a happy couple watching the sunset?” Golden words gleamed against the novel’s blush pink dust jacket as the book moved closer with a flourish.

“Or evil being vanquished?” The superhero novel added as it basked in the light that remained at the back of the bookshop.

“Not every day can have a perfect ending,” Cierra said as she gestured at her own uniform, but her eyes never left the floating object before her. With careful movements, she signaled her desire to touch the discolored book. It shakily bobbed its permission as it timidly moved closer. The young girl gently took the book into her hands - dusting it off with light fingers. A confident undertone came into her voice. “It’s only natural that not every adventure ends in success. Sometimes we learn more from our failures than our accomplishments.”

“Well, I’ll say!” The historical novel intoned - slamming closed.

“Humph!” The romance said as it turned its spine to Cierra. 

The superhero novel simply zoomed away - knowing well that this was not a battle it would win. The two other books quickly followed in its wake. Their brightly colored covers quickly faded amidst the sea of books. 

Cierra looked down at the book in her hands - her thumb stroking its spine. “Would you like to come home with me?”

The little novel floated up - bouncing excitedly through the air. “Oh, yes! Yes, please!”

Cierra’s smile widened, and she turned to make her way back to the counter. She studiously ignored the whispers of the books they passed. Her chin raised with a determined air and her arms swung by her side. The new companion she had acquired floated more steadily the further away they got from the abandoned corner. 

Mr. Arlisle looked up as Cierra made her way back to the front of the shop. “Did you find what you needed, miss?” His eyes once again analyzed her - brightening as she got closer. This time, the young girl met his gaze with a smile of her own. 

Cierra nodded, her eyes now sparkling as well. “Yes, I did.” She gestured to the book that landed on the desk between them. Its small form fitted perfectly among the haphazardly piled belongings. 

“I see. And it is to your liking?” Mr. Arlisle asked as he smiled down at the book. His weathered hands removed the last of the dust with practiced fingers. 

“Oh, yes,” Cierra said as she paid. “I think it and I will get along splendidly.” 

“That’s good. I knew you’d find one to your liking.” Mr. Arlisle looked back up at her as the book traded hands. “I hope you come again.” 

“I will.” The girl said as she pushed the door open. She glanced over her shoulder to get one last look at the aged interior of the building, then stepped back out into the warmth of the sun. This time she knew what she had said was the truth. Cierra couldn’t wait to come back to the magical bookshop. 

December 16, 2022 22:02

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4 comments

Chad Eastwood
16:22 Jan 04, 2023

A great story!

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Penny Pepper
06:19 Dec 23, 2022

Loved it! It just... makes sense. I love how you put the truth in reality and in a way that made this story the happy ending. It makes it worth the wait to finally grasp for that happy ending. But it never does end. And it's not always happy. I actually needed it. Thanks.

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C. A. Janke
03:19 Dec 23, 2022

Loved the characterization of all the novels and their unique personalities and attitudes towards the purpose of stories, and then finally Cierra's own view on the value of unhappy endings. Wonderful story!

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Wendy Kaminski
13:10 Dec 22, 2022

I loved the moral of this story, Lena, and your writing is excellent! Nicely done!

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