Good morning! It is time for week six of Monday Mini Mysteries! This is the last short story mystery I will be posting in this series, and I hope to leave you going “hmmm…” at the end of this one. It is inspired by two sentences:
- “In a bookshop, she sees a book with her name on the spine. Her picture is on the book jacket. She did not write it.” Penguin Random House Writers Academy
- The lights and sounds of the big city have always excited me. 99 Started Sentences on Hobby Lark
Let me know in the comments what you think of this story, this series, and anything you would like to see in future Monday Mini’s!
The Book She Didn’t Write
The lights and sounds of the big city have always excited me. Despite being raised in the country, I am invigorated by the thought of so many stories and lives going on all around me. Everywhere I look something significant is happening. When I stepped outside the building which houses my office, I feel my energy renewing at just the sight of so much life. I decide to leave my car in the parking garage a little longer, and take a short walk to clear my head before going home to make dinner and tackle the never-ending list of chores.
With a few steps I dissolve into the crowd hurrying up and down 13th street. The sun is starting to set, so the shadows are quite chilly. Thankfully, I thought to bring a scarf this morning, and now I pull it tighter around my neck. The fall air is crisper than I anticipated, so I decide to duck into my favorite book store and café when I come to it. The comforting aroma of coffee and paper hit me as soon as I walk in, and I release a breath I had not realized I was holding.
“A cup of coffee won’t hurt,” I think. I typically try to plan and account for every dollar I spend, but today I let myself be won over by the scent of the flavor of the day and get in line. Soon I am wandering the aisles with a warm cup in my hand.
This is the ultimate book store, in my mind: it has a decently sized collection of both old and new books, and a generous mix of popular and obscure titles. There are floor-to-ceiling shelves, ladders that run on tracks, and soothing jazz music filling the atmosphere. In the cafe, there are tables with outlets and comfy chairs with side tables for your drink or book, and even more chairs in random corners of the stacks. Essentially, the entire shop is designed to exude comfort and peace.
My favorite section is the classics. They are kept in a smaller room off the side of the main room, and dozens of copies of works by Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and other famous authors line the shelves. I can always tell when classes at the local college are about to start, as this section becomes busiest right when students are buying their required texts. This is where I wandered first today. I become so engrossed in comparing editions of Wuthering Heights that I do not immediately realize when someone says my name behind me.
“Geez, Lauren, you’re sure in a world of your own today,” Michael, a bookseller I occasionally chat with, says when I finally looked up in surprise and acknowledge him. I laugh.
“Sorry,” I said, “I guess I am. It’s been a bit of a long day, and I was enjoying the solitude.”
“Well, I won’t interrupt your solitude too long,” Michael says with a smile, “I just wanted to let you know we got a big load of new titles put out today. There are a few I think you might be interested in. One, especially; it’s on the bottom shelf of the central display.”
“Okay, what’s it called?” I ask.
“I can’t tell you that,” he replies with a smirk.
“What do you mean, you can’t tell me?” I demand, returning the volumes I held to their shelves. Michael shrugs.
“Just that. I can’t tell you. It’s the center book on the bottom shelf of our new arrivals display. Hope you check it out!” With that he turns around and walks toward another customer. Intrigued, I abandon the classics section and return to the main room.
The new arrivals display is a pyramid close to the front door. You can glimpse it in the front window from outside, and occasionally I stand outside and scan it before deciding whether or not I have time to spend inside. Today I had barely even glanced at it when I came in. Carefully, I kneel in front of the side facing away from the main walkway so that I can see the books on the bottom shelf better. A beautiful book with a vibrant, deep purple cover holds the center spot. The embossed title simply reads “Stories,” and I wonder again why Michael said he couldn’t tell me the title. I pick up a copy and turned it over. The slick cover is cool in my hands, and the back cover plain. I open the book, and instantly almost dropped it when I see the author’s headshot on the back flap of the dustjacket.
She looks exactly like me. Same dirty blonde hair in a style I often wear, same dark eyes with the slightest hint of dark circles beginning to form underneath, and the same slender nose. Flipping back to the front, my eyes grow even wider when I see the author’s name. Or rather, the author’s initials, as they simply read “L.H.,” just like mine. I return to the picture in the back and stare intently at it when suddenly it blinks. Wait, no, I blinked. Pictures don’t blink.
“Spooky, isn’t it?” Michael says, startling me.
“You nearly made me drop my coffee!” I exclaim, hoping to cover up the fact that I actually was a bit spooked by the eerie book.
“Sorry,” he says nonchalantly, “so what do you think of it?” I looked back at the book in my hand, then drain my coffee to stall.
“I don’t know,” I finally say. Michael looks way too casual about this for my comfort.
“It does this to everyone,” he says. I squint at him in confusion.
“That picture in the back is like a mirror. The book is written entirely in second person, as if the reader is party to everything the narrator says. So the publisher put in that. But now, here’s the really strange part. This book can change itself into whatever the reader needs to know. Not what they want to know, mind you, but what they need to know.” I roll my eyes at this.
“Michael, that’s ridiculous,” I say, “a book can’t change what it says based on what the reader needs.”
“It can If it’s this book,” he says simply, “no, really Lauren. Go sit in the cafe and read the first chapter. Then give the book to someone else, and have them read the first chapter and tell you what it’s about. You’ll be surprised.”
“There is no way that’s possible,” I insist.
“I’ll refill your mocha with an extra pump of caramel on the house if you read it,” Michael replies. Amused, and also thinking that a refill with my favorite flavor sounds very good, I give in. The chores at home can wait.
“Alright,” I say, “I’ll read the first chapter. We’ll see what happens from there.”
“We certainly will,” Michael answer, taking my empty coffee cup. I settle into an oversize chair and begin to read.
I considered adding a disclaimer at the beginning of this post that the story ends ambiguously, but decided against it so that no one would avoid reading it simply based on the ending.
As I have said throughout this series, I have enjoyed taking time to write fiction again for the first time in several years. I am not entirely sure where I will go with any of this from here on, but I am glad for the practice and entertainment it has provided.
Have you enjoyed these short stories? Is there something else you think I should address in a Monday Mini post or series?
Feel free to add to the story in the comments, or suggest what you think is in Lauren’s book!
Until the next chapter,