Nina’s best friend, Ivy, stood on the pavement outside The Lost Bookshop and stared at the ‘Closed’ sign which she could see through the glass of the door. A few minutes ago she had knocked but no-one had answered. The windows of the bookshop stretched left and right. Ivy thought that there had probably been two or three shops here at one time but over the years the bookshop had eaten them. She had never thought it was as big as all that. She’d driven past it, of course, but her Mum and Dad preferred the new bookshop in the middle of town. The one with the coffee shop that sold the horrible orange juice with bits in it and cakes that they put nuts and seeds in.
Ivy didn’t understand why a cake needed seeds in it and she definitely didn’t understand why a bookshop needed a coffee shop. She was pretty convinced that books were what a bookshop needed. Her parents disagreed. But today, on this windy, sunny, Saturday morning, her parents had finally allowed her to come here and meet her best friend.
But where was Nina? She should have been here five minutes ago and she was usually right on time. Ivy pressed her freckled nose to the glass of the door, cupping her hands around her eyes to try to glimpse something in the darkness inside. Was that a shape she could see moving? Ivy leaned forward, pressing harder and squinting, she could definitely see…
Nina opened the door inwards and Ivy fell forward, landing face-down at her feet.
“Ivy!” Nina smiled wide, showing the gaps where the tooth fairy had taken a couple of her teeth.
“Mmmmph,” said Ivy and turned over on to her back. She smiled up at Nina who looked upside down from where Ivy lay like a pretty, blonde puddle.
“Well, don’t just lie there,” said Nina, reaching down, taking Ivy’s hand and helping her to her feet. “Come inside. You are going to love it in here, I promise!”
A small bell above the door made a ding-ding noise as the door swung closed behind them and Nina turned the sign so that people outside could see that the bookshop was open. Ivy looked around, her mouth hanging open slightly. She had never seen so many books in one place in her whole life. Every wall was covered with shelves and every shelf was crammed with books. There were bookcases in the middle of the room, tables with books stacked in piles, paperback books, hardback books, leather books and books and books and…
“Are you okay?” Nina asked.
“There are just so many…” Ivy trailed off.
“Oh this is just the front room,” Nina laughed. “Come this way and I’ll show you the rest of the shop.”
The two girls stepped forward and a door appeared to materialise between two of the stacks.
“This way,” said Nina as she moved deeper into the shop.
“Is it magic?” asked Ivy, following her into a book-lined corridor, which itself led to door after door to room after book-filled room.
Nina giggled. “No, not magic. Just a mess. There are so many books stacked up everywhere, I’m not even sure I’ve been in every room in this place.”
“Yup. A couple of weeks ago I was helping tidy up one of the rooms down there,” Nina pointed off to the right. “I think it was down there. Anyway, Uncle Bill moved a big stack of encyclopaedias and there was a door.”
“A hidden door?” Ivy gasped.
“Exactly that,” said Nina and turned left into one of the rooms.
Ivy stood for a second alone in the corridor. This place was like a maze. Never mind The Lost Bookshop, it was a bookshop you could most definitely get lost in. She turned around, trying to work out what sort of books were on the wall next to her and then, for a moment, couldn’t quite remember which way Nina had gone.
“N-” she started to say before Nina’s head popped back into view.
“Come on then slow-coach,” said Nina.
Ivy stepped through the door and entered a much smaller room. One of the walls was empty of books, in place of a bookcase was an ornate fireplace with an open fire burning in it. Nina sat down on a stool not too far from the fire and Ivy went to follow her but was startled by another voice from the other side of the room.
“Ah, hello young lady,” it was Nina’s Uncle Bill. “You must be…Ivy?”
Ivy nodded, suddenly feeling a little shy.
Uncle Bill stepped forward and offered his hand towards her.
Ivy stared at it. It was attached to an arm which was wrapped in a shirt sleeve. The shirt was white with an odd pattern woven into it that Ivy could have sworn was letters…or perhaps words. The arm, of course, was attached to a body, which was wrapped in a waistcoat which appeared to have been pieced together from fragments of the brightest and most mismatched fabric she had ever seen. It was as if very careful consideration had been given to exactly what colours wouldn’t work next to each other and then the waistcoat had been constructed to that exact specification.
Ivy tipped her head back, looking up at the grown up and felt a little scared. For a moment she forgot what it was she was supposed to do. Uncle Bill twitched his eyebrows at her and began to re-arrange his face, the slight furrows in his brow melting away.
“You can shake it. If you like,” Uncle Bill had finished rearranging his expression and had plastered a huge, warm smile across his face. He waggled his hand at Ivy again. Ivy smiled and remembering what she was supposed to do at last, shook his hand. “Nina has told me a lot about you.”
Ivy scampered over to where Nina had been sitting but Nina had already moved behind a desk at the other side of the room. She picked up a book from a nearby pile and started flicking through and looking at some of the pictures.
“Ooh,” said Nina, reaching out and picking something up. “Is this what I think it is?”
She lifted up the something which revealed itself to be a key.
“Yes,” said Uncle Bill. “It’s the key to the hidden room. But don’t get any ideas. I need to go in there and sort it out before I let you loose on it. It could be dangerous.”
“Billy,” a voice carried from one of the back rooms. It was Nina’s Aunty Ann. “The kettle’s boiled. Do you want a cup of tea?”
“A nice cup of tea would go down a treat right about now,” said Uncle Bill, walking away from the girls. “Go. Explore. Read. But whatever you do, don’t let any customers in. They might buy something.”
Ivy waited until he was out of the room then whispered to Nina, “What does he mean?”
“Oh nothing,” said Nina. “He just likes books more than people, most people anyway.”
Nina held up the key again and smiled a wicked smile.
“No,” gasped Ivy. “We can’t!”
Nina took two paces towards the door. “We can just take a look,” she said, taking another long step towards the door. “Just for a moment.”
By now she was half in and half out of Uncle Bill’s little office.
“It would be rude not to!” she added and darted out of the room.
Or order your copy if you like what you see!