Words have power. Words can do strange things to people, and nowhere is this more evident than those hole-in-the-wall second hand bookstores populated the world over by shuffling old men who peer at you over half-moon glasses.
This bookstore was no exception. Seth stumbled onto it by accident. He’d meant to meet Jenny to share a curry – but somehow he’d wandered down the wrong side alley and instead of finding himself at “Delicious Delhi Delights” was instead looking at, “World of Words”. As he was already two hours late for his dinner, and seeing she’d told him in no uncertain terms that if he ever stood her up again she’d have his guts for garters (and that was one of the tamer phrases he remembered her using) he figured he’d spend some time browsing the books, especially since he was an aspiring novelist himself. Of course in order to call himself a writer he would actually have to write something, but the word fairy seemed to have abandoned him ruthlessly, just as Jenny was sure to do.
He pushed open the green baize doors into a mustiness that bespoke of old tomes, a too-warm space and tea. Seth stood in the middle of the aisle, feet resting easily on two worn places on the carpet that probably had been original to the building and surveyed the shelves around him. He just knew if he peered around the side of the shelf the shop would look impossibly big in comparison to the space it took up outside. And that is the other thing about secondhand bookstores – space takes on another dimension. The bookshelves tilted so that the tops looked like canopies protecting the aisles from the ceiling, the aisles themselves twisted and turned with no rhyme or reason. The walls seemed to expand outwards, as though making more space for the books.
As Seth reached out to touch a volume, he heard a shuffling behind him. He instinctively knew he’d find an 80-something year old man wearing worn carpet slippers. He rotated around and saw an 80-something year old man wearing worn carpet slippers, and half-moon frames with one lens cracked. Ah, now Seth felt completely at home. He nodded amicably at the elderly owner. “Evenin’” he said, “Just browsing. Is that all right?”
“Certainly sir,” the owner responded. “Let me know if you need anything.”
Without further prompting Seth ventured into the shadows created by the leaning towers of bookcases. At the furthest recess of the store was a winding stairway, but after peering up Seth was disappointed to see that it went nowhere. “Why the staircase?” he called out.
“The staircase, why is it there? It doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Ah, sir, you’d be wrong.” The shuffle of the slippers was the only indication of movement as the owner appeared suddenly alongside Seth and peered shortsightedly up.
“Don’t be silly man, the rungs end at the ceiling.” Seth said a little annoyed now.
The old man hobbled back slightly and tugged at Seth’s shirt-sleeve. “Things aren’t always what they seem. Words can do strange things when they’re altogether in one place. That’s why libraries chain some of the bigger volumes to the shelves.”
Seth pulled away irritably, “That’s ridiculous! Come on man talk sense.” Instinctively he made his way to the front of the shop.
“I know you’re a writer…” Seth stopped in his tracks and turned back. “…and I know climbing those stairs will help you. What have you got to lose? Either I’m an idiot whose spent too much time reading science fiction, or I’m right and climbing those stairs will bring the muse back. What’s it going to be young man?” As he was speaking the old man’s posture changed, as did the timbre of his voice. There was authority there.
Compelled to prove the octogenarian wrong, Seth reluctantly began to climb the first step of the wrought-iron stairs. “OK, let’s see where this goes.” He ascended quickly and as his head bumped the ceiling he disappeared.
The old man rocked back on his heels, pleased with his efforts. Who knew where Seth would land up? That wasn’t his bailiwick. He had been sent to earth to send promising young writers to other worlds, to worlds where words were still in their infancy and required careful tending before they attained the power they had on the earth because, as everyone knows, words have power.
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