It wasn’t that Nina moved quickly through the maze of connected rooms, it was just that she seemed to have a better idea of where to put her feet than Ivy did. The girls giggled nervously as they negotiated the teetering towers of books, both moving as fast as they dared whilst at the same time desperately trying not to knock anything over. Finally, Nina found the room she was looking for and stopped suddenly, the mysterious key held tightly in her hand. Unfortunately for Ivy, she had no idea which room Nina was looking for, so instead of stopping suddenly like her best friend, she walked straight into Nina and the pair tumbled to the ground in a cloud of dust and laughter.
When the girls caught their breath and the laughs died down, Ivy’s brow furrowed and she tugged at Nina’s sleeve.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked Nina.
“What do you mean?” Nina replied, still smiling wildly.
“Well, your Uncle Bill said don’t go in there, didn’t he?” said Ivy.
“He might have. I can’t remember.” Nina stood up and walked toward the locked door. It had been painted red at some time in the long and distant past but now, like so much of The Lost Bookshop, it had faded. She lifted her right hand and placed the palm flat on the peeling paint.
“Don’t go in where?” piped up a voice. The girls span around and there, sitting at a little desk in the corner, was a small boy who wore a pair of tiny, round glasses.
“Ohhh,” groaned Nina and turned back to the door.
Ivy looked concerned and stared at the boy. “Where did you come from?” she asked as nicely as she could.
“Don’t talk to him,” said Nina. “We’re trying to have an adventure here.”
“An adventure?” said the boy.
“Well, err, perhaps,” Ivy hesitated, not wanting to get her friend into trouble. “I’m Ivy and this is Nina.”
“He knows who I am, don’t you Oswald?” said Nina, moving her head closer to the door and placing her ear against it before knocking on the wood a couple of times.
Oswald’s face exploded into a smile.
“Yes!” he said and jumped up from his seat, grabbing Ivy’s hand and shaking it up and down so hard she thought it might actually fall off.
“He doesn’t live anywhere, do you Oswald?” Nina continued her careful examination of the door, alternately moving her ear to different spots and then knock-knocking on the wood. “He’s just here all the time, hanging around like someone on a trapeze with glue on their hands.”
“I like it here,” said Oswald.
“It’s not a library, it’s a bookshop,” said Nina, finally stepping back from the door.
“I know that,” said Oswald. “It’s better than the library. It has something the library doesn’t have.”
“What’s that?” asked Ivy, thinking that Nina was being a little bit mean to poor Oswald.
“Well, erm…it has books,” said Oswald flatly.
Both the girls looked at him, their eyebrows knitted together in puzzlement.
“He’s a year younger than me,” Nina pretended to whisper to Ivy. “I think he might be a bit loopy.”
Ivy smiled but managed not to laugh. “What do you mean Oswald? Of course the library has books. Lots of them.”
“Nah, not anymore,” Oswald sighed. “They keep taking out bookshelves and putting computers in there instead. What’s the point of that? I talked to your Uncle Bill. He agrees with me. Says it’s madness.”
“He’s got a point,” said Nina to Ivy. “Often does. Do you think we should let him play with us big girls?”
Ivy was about to answer but Nina was already back at the door. This time she had the key in the lock and was turning it. A rusty, clanking noise shuddered through the air as the old mechanism unlocked the door.
“Wait!” said Ivy, a little too loudly, causing Nina and Oswald to stare at her wide-eyed. Then she whispered, “What if it’s dangerous?”
“It’s not,” said Nina, slipping the key into her pocket. “I’ve checked.”
“With the knocking and the listening?” Ivy hissed. “But what if Uncle Bill catches us?”
“Then we’ll be in big trouble,” said Nina slowly and precisely. “What about you Oswald? Are you coming?”
“I thought you’d never ask!” Oswald was practically bursting with excitement.
The door creaked as Nina pushed it slowly open and there was a strange sort of hissing noise like air being let out of a tyre. The children could smell dust and something else. Something that was different. Sawdust perhaps?
The three of them stared into the now open room, their eyes getting used to the darkness in there, looking for clues, looking for danger.
“Oh, hang on,” said Nina and reached into her satchel for a torch. Flicking the switch, the electric beam showed a room that hadn’t seen light of any kind for a long, long time.
“Oh my,” said Oswald, edging forward into the shadows of the room, the torchlight flashing around them, making the old dusty books look as if they might be moving on their own. “This is brilliant. When do you think it was last opened? Ten years ago? Twenty?”
“I would be surprised if anybody had been in this room in over a hundred years,” said Nina confidently.
Ivy nodded, the three of them standing in the middle of what had turned out to be a perfectly round room cluttered with boxes, cases, shelves and of course, books.
Oswald reached over to the stack nearest to him. Taking a deep breath he filled his lungs and blew as hard as he could on the book he had picked up.
The dust swirled around the room, picking up speed, picking up more dust and spinning and spinning. The door of the room slammed shut and the torch flew from Nina’s grip, falling to the floor and spinning and spinning too until, with a thunderous bang, everything stopped spinning and everything went dark.