Author: Chris Lihou

Sophia’s hood on her navy-coloured jacket was pulled over her head, her eyes directed towards her feet. She was out walking and needed to ensure a secure footing on the uneven cobbled pavement of smooth dark stones glistening from the recent rainfall. Rainwater was flowing noisily in the gutter, heading downhill to the nearest sewer grating. With head down Sophia received a modicum of protection against the chilly, blustery November wind stinging her face.

To her right, she saw an inviting sign in a shop door’s window. “Why not stop in for a coffee?”

Sophia depressed the lever and opened the glazed, wooden door. It creaked as she pushed it forward. Just inside sat a young man with mangy, braided, unkempt hair and a full beard. He barely acknowledged her arrival, so engrossed was he with his computer screen. “Where’s the coffee?” she asked. “Upstairs at the back” he replied without looking up, leaving her to figure out any further directions. She maneuvered herself past the piles of books on the floor. Each pile had a pink post-it note on top, presumably recording what was planned for them next. The shop had a distinct smell of age; musty and dusty.

Where it existed, the carpeting had patches worn right down to the backing. Where it didn’t, old worn and bare pine floorboards could be seen. The aisles themselves were very narrow; passing other shoppers would be a challenge, not that she could see anyone in the store. The shelving, bulging under the weight of books, went all the way from the floor to the ceiling making it impossible to see beyond the aisle in which she was standing. No natural light appeared to enter the aisles, a warren of dimly lit passages, a maze with no obvious beginning or end.

As she entered the first aisle, labeled Fiction A-F, the muffled voices started. From above her, she heard a deep echoing voice say, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.” Sophie was immediately unsettled. Where had the voice come from?

She quickly went to the end of the first aisle and entered the adjacent one, Fiction G-M, only to hear another voice “When you play the Game of Thrones you win or you die.”

Quickening her stride, she went into another aisle. The old wooden floorboards flexed and squeaked beneath her feet. Fiction N-S. Another voice! “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Where are these voices? What is this place?

Sophia was practically running now, lost inside the aisles. Where was the exit? She wanted out. She took the uneven, carpeted but threadbare stairs two at a time. She got a glimpse of a window and headed in that direction. Before she reached the door, she heard yet another voice sounding almost like a preacher, “All we can know is that we know nothing”.

She was agitated, and on high alert. She could feel her pulse thumping in her neck. Finally, Sophie found the door but not before she heard one last voice, a resonant echo from the end of a tunnel “The real world is where the monsters are”.

Fresh air! She gasped. Gulped. She looked back at the sign above the door. FRANK’S BOOKS, Est. 1910, New and Used, AUDIO BOOK SPECIALIST, a fact she hadn’t noticed when she entered.