Nina sat breathlessly waiting in the branches of the tree, her heart hammering in her chest like a monkey playing a big bass drum. She pulled aside some leaves, daring to peek for a moment, to see if she could catch a glimpse of the lion.
Could lions climb trees? She thought they probably could. This one certainly seemed to have its mind set on doing whatever it could to catch her.
There was a rustling in the leaves above her and she twisted her head around, scared that the big cat would pounce. Nina’s wavy brown hair was pushed into her eyes by a branch; she brushed it aside just in time to see a bird with brightly coloured feathers fly from its nest.
Why had she climbed a tree? She hated heights and here she was in a tree at the top of a cliff no less. She’d had some bad ideas in her time but this had to be one of the worst.
Where was that lion?
She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the jungle, the strange bird calls, the rustling of the leaves. And what was that noise carried on the warm breeze? A voice? Was the lion talking to her?
“What are you doing young lady?” said the voice. Nina had expected a lion to sound a bit more growly.
“What are you doing young lady?” the voice said again. That was no lion. It was Nina’s Uncle Bill. “Get down from there. How many times do I have to tell you? Books are not chairs.”
Nina snapped closed the book she had been reading and glanced down. There were books. Lots and lots of books, all stacked up on top of each other and books that were piled next to each other. Big books and small books, books on shelves that lined every wall. The shelves stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Higher than Nina could reach. Probably higher than most grown-ups could reach too. Each shelf was jammed with books of all sizes, shapes and colours and whichever way you turned there were more and more and more of them.
And when there was no more space on the walls? More bookcases were just piled into the centre of the room and filled to bursting point with…you’ve guessed it…more and more and more books.
And when there was no more space on the bookcases? Well then the books were mostly stacked in precarious piles around and about against the walls and, in this particular room in the bookshop, under Nina’s bottom where the books had been conveniently stacked into the shape of a chair.
Uncle Bill reached forward and carefully took the one Nina had been reading out of her hands.
“In the mood for a bit of jungle adventure are we?” he asked with a smile as he carefully inspected the book.
Nina nodded and stood up then bent over and picked up her bag. She lifted the strap of the brightly coloured satchel over her head and draped it across her body.
“Aren’t you a little young for adventure stories? A girl could get hurt falling from a great height.”
Nina made a funny shape with her mouth, lifting one side as if it was smiling on its own and she shrugged one shoulder.
“Maybe,” she said. “It’s a good book, though.”
Uncle Bill nodded and slid it carefully back into its place on a shelf. Nina didn’t know how many books were in the shop. If she was honest, she wasn’t really sure how many rooms there were either. The books just went on and on, but in spite of all that, her Uncle Bill knew where every one of them belonged.
“No time for that now,” he said. “I want you to go and open the shop.”
“I thought you didn’t like customers?” said Nina with a grin.
Uncle Bill reached up and scratched his grey beard. “I don’t,” he said, raising an eyebrow and glancing around the room at all the books. “But your Aunty Ann would get very cross if I didn’t at least open the door. It’s the little things that bother her.”
“There would be consequences,” said Nina and laughed as she skipped through the doorway that led out of the side-room and towards the front of the shop.
Now I suppose you’ve got some questions already haven’t you?
Well, that doesn’t surprise me. When you’ve been here as long as me, you expect questions.
I’m not going to answer all your questions, of course. That would ruin the story. What I can do, however, is to turn back the clock and tell you a little bit about this mysterious bookshop Nina helped out at. You don’t mind, I’m sure, we’ll get back to Nina in a moment.
You see, the bookshop was old. Very old. Very, very old, indeed. Some say, even older than Nina’s Uncle Bill. And Uncle Bill had owned this odd little shop that sat on the edge of town, refusing to close down, for as long as anyone you asked could remember. All around it shops would arrive, selling their bits and bobs for a few years and then eventually they would close. Another cafe or shop would almost always replace them, or they would be knocked down so someone could build a different shaped cafe or shop in their place.
But not this shop. This shop was different. This shop was special.
It had a name, of course, every shop did but the name was different depending on how old you were. There was a… discussion, shall we call it? A few years ago. The sign outside the shop needed to be replaced.
“It’s about two hundred years old,” Nina had said.
Uncle Bill shook his head and did that thing he did when he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He took his glasses off and started cleaning them with his handkerchief.
Nina, however, was in no mood to have her mind changed on the subject.
“And worse than that,” she continued. “You wouldn’t notice this because you never go outside but the wood on the sign is rotten. I think it’s probably going to fall on someone’s head. Then you know what happens?”
Uncle Bill put his glasses back on.
“Then,” Nina went on. “You’ll get in big trouble mister and somebody mean will come and close this place down.”
“So we need a new sign?” Uncle Bill said.
“Yes,” said Nina. “And it needs to say ‘The Lost Bookshop’.”
Uncle Bill almost reached for his glasses again.
“But it’s not called ‘The Lost Bookshop’,” he sighed. “It’s called ‘The Lost Book Emporium’.”
Nina pointed out of the window to the street outside.
“Can you see anyone out there who is two hundred years old?”
Uncle Bill shook his head. “Well, err, no.”
“No one knows what an emporium is any more.”
“I can’t be held responsible for other people’s stupidity can I?” Uncle Bill huffed. “And besides, it’s been called ‘The Lost Book Emporium’ since…well…since forever hasn’t it?” He picked up a leather bound book from the table in front of him and turned it over in his hands, inspecting the back carefully.
“Billy,” a voice carried from one of the back rooms. It was Nina’s Aunty Ann. “She’s right. Change the name. Change the sign.”
Uncle Bill groaned and put down the book but gradually a smile spread across his face. “Okay then. I suppose.”
And with that ‘The Lost Book Emporium’ became ‘The Lost Bookshop’.
Now I expect that you think this is just going to be a story about a dusty old bookshop, don’t you?
Well you’d be dead wrong.
There’s a lot more to this story than that, I can promise you…a lot more.
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