“You can wait in here, little Molly,” the kind man said, ushering Molly into a room filled floor to ceiling with books. “Miss Jeannie will keep you company while we find your sister.”
A woman appeared from between two aisles and smiled at Molly sweetly. “We’ll have fun, Molly, you’ll see.”
Molly eyed her speculatively while the man retreated. “My sister fell in a mine shaft,” she announced.
Jeannie nodded sympathetically. “I’ve heard,” she said, sweeping a welcoming arm toward two overstuffed chairs.
“I ran for help as fast as I could,” Molly said, climbing into one of the chairs. “She was moaning. She might be hurt.”
Jeannie’s brow creased, and she frowned thoughtfully. “What you need is a good book to read,” she decided.
Molly played with her fingers. “I don’t read very well,” she admitted. “Mostly I read picture books.”
“Oh, I have plenty of those,” beamed Jeannie. “It’ll be just the thing to take your mind off it until they come back with your sister. What kind of picture books do you like?”
Molly sighed. “I don’t feel like reading a book,” she said quietly.
“What if it was the perfect book?” enticed Jeannie.
Molly eyed her with suspicion. “What’s the perfect book?” she asked dubiously.
“Whatever you wish,” smiled Jeannie, and her eyes gleamed with a certain flavor of mischief that few six year olds can resist.
“I wish there was a book about…” said Molly, stalling to think up the most perfect, impossible picture book. One she knew couldn’t exist. “A princess unicorn named Simone who tap dances and whistles, and a handsome prince comes and feeds her apples all day.”
“Hmm,” Jeannie said, leaning back in her chair thoughtfully. Molly grinned smugly. “I think there’s just the book,” Jeannie said at last, “over there.”
“Where?” demanded Molly, leaping to her feet. She didn’t believe Jeannie, but part of her hoped it was true. She followed the direction of Jeannie’s pointed finger.
“Just a little farther, I think,” called Jeannie. Everywhere Molly looked there were books. Every size and color imaginable. The air smelled of books. New ones and old ones and everything in between. Molly turned in circles, overwhelmed. “I find it helps to close your eyes when you’re looking for the perfect book,” Jeannie called.
Molly frowned. Who would close their eyes when they were looking for something? With a sigh of exasperation Molly closed her eyes. Her fingers traced the spines of the books on either side as she walked, enjoying the textural adventure. She wondered what it would be like to be able to feel the story inside, just by touch. Suddenly, a book was in her left hand, as if it had slid out at just the right moment to be caught. Molly studied it. There was a drawing of a unicorn on the cover.
“That was amazing!” she gasped as she turned the last page.
The final picture was of the handsome prince feeding the unicorn princess apples and the townsfolk applauded in the background from the amazing tap dance performance she’d just given. Molly looked up at Jeannie in wonder. Jeannie glanced up from her own book and smiled.
“I’m glad,” she said. “What other kind of story would you wish to read?”
Molly thought seriously about her next request. Mermaids? Fairy princesses? Puppies and kittens? “I wish there was a book about the stars in the sky,” she said finally.
“I think you should look over there,” smiled Jeannie, pointing to the same spot.
Molly didn’t hesitate. Her eyes closed, her fingertips tracing title after title, she walked slowly and hoped. And then there was a book in her hand, as if she’d grabbed it on purpose.
“Wow!” she sighed when she got to the end for the second time. “That was exactly what I wished for.”
Jeannie looked over the pages of her own book with an indulgent smile. “What sort of book should we wish for next?” she asked conspiratorially.
A note of melancholy struck Molly as her eyes strayed to the waning light filtering in through high windows. “Is there a book about a sister who fell in a mine shaft coming back safe and sound?” she asked.
“I think there just might be,” nodded Jeannie.
Molly didn’t need to be told where to look this time. She ran to the shelves, closed her eyes, and felt her way along the row. Soon enough a book was in her hand.
“This is magic!” she exclaimed as she leafed through it. “They look just like us, and the place where they find each other looks like a library!”
Molly looked to the door in anticipation, but her sister was not there. Jeannie closed her book and watched Molly with saddened eyes.
“Your sister will be fine,” she assured, but Molly knew she couldn’t know that for sure. “This library is full of stories, Molly, and any story you wish can be placed in a book. But it’s important to know the difference between a story and what’s real.”
“I wish there was a book that could grant wishes, for real,” grumbled Molly.
Jeannie looked suddenly uncomfortable. The gleam in her eye seemed more like fear now than mischief. Molly jumped to her feet.
“There is, isn’t there?” she challenged, already headed for the aisle where she knew she’d find it.
“I imagine such a book would be better left unread, if there were such a thing,” said Jeannie, following after Molly.
“I know it’s here,” said Molly, “and I know the difference between real and story. I can feel it. It’s real.” She closed her eyes and ran down the aisle before Jeannie could catch up to her.
Sure enough, a book suddenly rested in her palm. On the cover was a line drawing of a lamp. Jeannie stood still, wringing her hands. Molly could see the door from her vantage. Still no sign of her sister and the light overhead was dimming into evening.
“I wish my sister would show up, safe and unhurt,” she said. The declaration felt good. Emboldening. She wanted to wish for everything she had ever held in her heart. “I wish I was a unicorn princess, and I wish I could be home again, with my mommy and daddy.”
Jeannie’s hands had stopped their turning and the woman seemed years older suddenly, and sad. Molly heard footsteps, and her sister’s voice calling to her from the hall.
“She’s in here? Molly? Molly I’m okay. Where are you?”
Her sister halted at the door. She was staring at Jeannie and Molly in confusion. Molly tried to call her sister’s name but the sound that issued from her throat was a whinny. In frustration she stomped a hoof. And when she turned to see what had made that odd clatter against the floorboards her horn swept an entire row of books into a heap beside the one whose cover looked like a lamp. It was open to an ornate illustration of a unicorn standing before what looked like her house. When she looked up the library, Jeannie and her sister were gone. What she saw instead were her mother’s eyes, wide with astonishment.
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!