“You know you’re being stupid, right?” Suzy chided. She hadn’t believed Riley when she told her about the dream stuff, and Riley didn’t blame her. It was nuts. Plus, Suzy knew Bruce. She should have known she did. It wasn’t like they lived in a big town.
Of course Suzy knew the loner kid a grade above them who was known for falling asleep in class…a lot. Though, as Riley explained to her, if he was fighting monsters in dreams all night, he had a right to be tired in class.
“He’s still weird,” Suzy scoffed, kicking a rock.
Riley’s aunt had dropped them off a block from the bookstore, so they had to walk there. It was either that or run the risk that she’d come in with them.
Riley was grateful her aunt wanted to see her friend, but then had surprised her when she said she’d never enter this store. Riley had tried to press her on it, but her aunt had pursed her lips and said she would just go to the Barnes and Noble over in Woodbury.
“Yeah, well, you’re weird,” Riley said as they neared the front of the shop.
“So what? My weird is awesomeness.”
Suzy acted as though she were going to push her, so Riley shuffled away on one leg, which nearly caused her to lose her balance. The pain that shot up her leg made her jaw clench, her other leg threatening to give out. Suzy quickly reached out before Riley could face plant on the ground.
“I got it,” Riley grumbled as she steadied herself.
“You sure? We don’t need you breaking the other leg.” Suzy said it jokingly, but Riley saw the concern.
“Nah, it’d be fine. You’d just have to carry me everywhere.” Riley was trying to forget the pain, but she still felt its fingertips dancing along her lower back. Fearing she still might fall, she paid more attention on where they were going.
“Never happen. We’d just have to get you a wheelchair.”
Riley smiled. “Motor scooter! I’d zip around everywhere. Put a go-kart engine on it and tear up the sidewalks. Vroom!”
“You trying to get yourself in a body cast?” Suzy asked, laughing.
When they reached the front door, Suzy hurried to grab it at the same time Riley reached for the automatic door button. Riley smiled at her and hobbled into the little shop.
“Maybe I just want everyone to take care of me,” Riley joked, then looked up, coming to a sudden stop, mouth dropping open.
As they had walked up to the building, she was looking at the door, not the large bay windows. The place was nothing like she expected, and she was amazed. Maybe movies were to blame for this. She thought independent bookstores were dark, grimy, and filled with dust and cobwebs. This place was clean, brightly lit, with rows upon rows of books, yet not overcrowded.
How have I never been in here?
Then she thought of what it looked like from outside. Old, dingy, the large bay windows covered in dirt and grime to prevent anyone from seeing inside. It was odd to have such a large contrast.
“Yeah, right. Your aunt would still make you do the dish-” She ran into the back of Riley, not noticing she had stopped. Looking up, the surprise on her face was visible as she glanced around. “This place is awesome,” she said in awe.
“Yeah. Think they’ll have the latest Skulduggery book, or maybe even the last Harry Potter?”
They immediately went to the right, looking down the rows and rows of books. The shelves were tall, making looking from one aisle into the next impossible. The walls were covered in books from floor to ceiling, which looked like it was two stories high. Moveable ladders ran along the shelves so anyone wanting a book up there could climb up to get it, which Riley did not think was all that safe.
Hey, maybe they put all the kid books up there? Kids loved to climb. Though they also liked to fall down, break their legs and have to be taken everywhere because they were now on crutches. At least the clerks wouldn’t have to chase little kids around to discover where they stashed books they liked.
Riley chuckled at the thoughts going through her head of little kids climbing ladders and clerks chasing them around the store. It would make for an excellent movie. One of those poorly made family comedies that often featured old comedians you’d never heard of.
They walked to the wall and turned down the aisle.
“You do know that the series ended and the last book has been out for a while now, right? You know, like a couple years after you were born. They even made it into a ‘movie’,” Suzy said, making sure to do her air quotes.
“I read Deathly Hollows,” Riley said, then grimaced when she noticed they had somehow made their way into the self-help section. She had a hard time listening to Suzy and not laughing at some of the latest books for “Dummies”. “I just thought there were more coming out. They’re making those prequel movies now. Isn’t there some book for them?”
“I don’t think so. I can look it up,” Suzy said as she pulled out her cell and started tapping on her screen.
“Or we could just ask. We’re in a bookstore.”
“But what’s the fun in that?”
“We need to find someone to talk to anyway. Just saying.”
Suzy looked up from her phone. “So how you going to go about this? Do you have a plan? Or are you just going to walk up to the counter and say, ‘Hey. I was told to come here by some kid in a dream.’”
Riley snorted. “He didn’t tell me to come here in the dream.”
She stopped at a break in the shelves. To the right looked like it went into another room, but the door was closed and labeled “Special Order Books. Off Limits”. To the left was another row of books, but that side had no door.
Riley tried to remember the layout of the store from the street. Something about this door didn’t make any sense. Judging from the outside, it should lead to an alley. There wasn’t enough room for another area, unless it was very small. Maybe this was the door that led into some kind of hidden base? She had seen enough cartoons to know that hidden bases could be found anywhere, as long as you knew how to look for the special entrance. This wasn’t the most clever one she’d seen, but she guessed it could work. How often did anyone order a book anyway?
“He told me to come here after the dream, when we were both awake,” Riley said as she motioned to the door. Suzy looked at her, confused. Riley shook her head, giving a frustrated sigh as she moved for the door. She slowly reached out for the handle, making sure to balance her weight on her good leg. She held her breath.
Her hand had just grasped the door handle when two things happened to make everything go wrong. First, a gruff voice behind them asked, “May I help you?” Second, the door swung open while Riley held the handle.
She had barely a second to react as she fell forward, not able to regain her balance.
Not knowing what was on the other side of the door, Riley had a sudden sense of panic, worried it was a staircase or something that led down into some secret lair. Which, of course, meant she’d maybe break her other leg, or even her neck. Who knew how long the staircase would be? It could go deep underground into secret catacombs, something like those crypts they had in France. Though it would be cooler if it were something like in the Resident Evil games—a massive fortress hidden away to do experiments underneath the town.
You know, as you’re falling, it seems you have a lot of time to think about how painful it is going to be when you smash into the ground, but not enough to think about whatever you can do to stop it.
She took a deep breath, prepared herself mentally, then had one last thought before she hit.
Aw, crap, I’m going to get tangled up in my crutches. This is really going to hurt. I really am going to break my other leg…