Excerpt for Pick Quick Libraries ( Book 1 ) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Pick Quick Libraries


Book One









Chapters




1: Silver Ticket


2: A Question of Time


3: Librarian


4: Liquid Pool


5: Prize


6: Friend in Need


7: Star


8: Teased


9: Request


10: Study in Astra


11: Girl at my Window


12: Revealed


13: Teachers and Students


14: Tea for Three


15: Another Visitor


Chapter 1


Silver Ticket



*

It’s not funny,’ I said, watching as my football cleared the road, reaching the green on the far side. 'You kicked it, go get it, or you're buying me a new one.'

Kyle rolled his eyes, he was my best friend, but sometimes he did stupid things. I guess after my team beat his in the juniors under fourteens match, this was his idea of payback. It didn't help I agreed to have a kick around with him, on Clapham Common.

'Thomas Baker, you're a baby.' Kyle laughed.

I didn't share his joke. 'Get the ball, or else,' I told him.

I was losing my patients, Kyle must've heard something in my voice, he stopped laughing. I met Kyle five years ago, when I was nine. Dad owned Frizz, the salon on Clapham Oldtown. Amanda, Kyle's mum, frequently visited, back then, she was a long-time customer. Sometimes she brought Kyle to the salon with her. Occasionally when I came to see dad for pocket money, Kyle was there. We both liked football, our friendship grew, it helped we supported the same team.

I watched Kyle, he sprinted away, I hoped he'd wait before crossing the road, a car was speeding his way. I was suddenly distracted by something in the corner of my eye. A flash of movement, a sudden splash. Quickly turning I saw a black and white cat, it had slipped into the pond nearby. It struggled to keep afloat. The poor animal, I couldn't let it drown.

'Wait, don't struggle, it will make things worse!' I called, feeling stupid, talking to animals wasn't cool.

Rushing to the paved embankment, I stretched out an arm, where the cat struggled, splashing about, it drifted out of reach. My fingers grabbed at the air. I had no choice, hoping it wasn't too deep, I slipped my legs into the water. This was a stupid idea. I wasn't a good swimmer. Using my elbows for support, slowly, I lowered myself. The water wasn't that deep. I splashed over to the cat. With both hands, I grabbed, snatching the poor, dripping wet animal from the water. Suddenly it dawned on me. Today I saved a life.

The cat didn't scratch me with its claws. This must have been because after its struggle it was weak and exhausted. It trembled in my arms as I made my way to the water’s edge.

'Thank you,' said a voice.

I looked up, surprised, there was a woman standing over me. She had a stern, kind face. She wore a green dress. Her eyes were green too, her hair was wavy and long. If I had a guardian angel this was what she'd look like.

'For what?' I asked, baffled.

'For rescuing Drew. He's very old. He has poor vision and can’t see beyond his whiskers. He has an inquiring mind, and a nose for trouble. Though his never strayed this far from home before.' The woman called out, leaping, the cat landed in her waiting arms. She ran a hand along his sleek fur, and as though by magic, it dried. 'He's grateful. We both are.'

'For what? I asked again, blinking, amazed by what I'd just seen.

'Saving Drew.' The woman gave a mischievous chuckle. 'If it weren't for you, he might've drowned.' With one arm cradling the cat to a shoulder, she offered me a outstretched hand.

'I'm wet,' I said, snappy, not meaning to be rude. 'I can manage, there’s no point us both getting wet.' There was something about the woman, a strange aura of beauty and innocence surrounded her. 'How did you do that?' I inquired.

At my question the woman raised an eyebrow.

'Drew, he's, dry.' I pondered.

'Oh.' The stranger appeared to have just noticed. She held out the cat, his back paws dangled, his tail flipped from side-to-side. She placed a kiss on his nose. 'He prefers to be dry. Cats do, they're fearful of water,' she told me.

I climbed from the pond.

Again, the woman offered me a hand. 'Thank you,' she said.

Hesitantly, I reached out, we exchanged a brief shake. It was amazing. I knew she appreciated what I'd done, saving Drew.

For a moment I stood, bewildered by the stranger. When reality returned, I noticed Kyle rushing over. He was bouncing my ball on the ground.

'You look like you've seen a ghost,' he said.

'I wonder what happened to her. The woman with the cat. She was here a moment ago,' I said in a daze.

'Who was?' asked Kyle.

'She didn't say her name. All I know is Drew, that's the name of her black and white cat. He's short sighted. He slipped into the pond, I rescued him. If I hadn't been here he would've drowned.'

'Sorry to break it to you. You haven't been near the water, you're dry.'

Hearing this, I cast a puzzled glance down, realizing Kyle was right. The chill water was gone. Not even my hair was wet. 'But I saw her.'

Kyle gave me a suspicious frown.

'I'm not joking,' I said, hastily.

'So say you.'

Kyle appeared to be more confused than I was.

'But the woman was standing where you are. She thanked me and shook my hand.' Glancing at my open palm, I noticed a folded piece of paper. 'What's this?' I hadn't realized it was there.

'Thomas, look at the silver edging, the writing,' said Kyle, as though amazed. 'I've seen silver tickets like that.'

For once my friend was ahead of me when it came to brains. Suddenly it dawned on me what the woman left behind. Her thanks went beyond words. It was a token of appreciation, far greater than anything I could wish for.

'Thomas Baker, your imaginary lady friend's given you a ticket to the Pick Quick Libraries.'

'But where is it?' I wondered.

'Check the ticket.' Kyle rolled his eyes.

It made sense, the location of the Pick Quick Libraries would be printed on it. Eagerly I unfolded the ticket.

'An invitation for two,' I hissed. My luck still hadn't registered, this was a dream come true. I'd always wanted this. 'The Pick Quick Libraries will be on Clapham Common, over there.' I glanced in the direction of the old Victorian bandstand. In the far distance behind trees, it was part visible. 'It should be on the green.' I was puzzled.

'There's nothing there,' said Kyle, scratching his head.

'The contractors might arrive later this afternoon,' I said. 'The tickets for tomorrow.'

'What kid doesn’t want an invite to the world-famous Pick Quick Libraries,' Kyle hissed, swinging an arm across my shoulders. 'I'm your best friend, plus one. You have to take me too.'

Slowly I shook my head, reality was slowly returning. I rushed away, calling back as I did. 'Since dad was a kid, he's always wanted to visit the Pick Quick Libraries.'

'But you said he doesn't believe in magic,' said Kyle.

'When he sees the ticket, I think he'll change his mind!' I faced him, running backwards, almost tripping over my new trainers. 'I've got to take him, this tickets for us.'

Chapter 2

A Question of Time


*

Dad puffed out of breath, trying to keep up with me. ‘I admit, I find it hard to believe your story, how you got that ticket.’

‘I told you,’ I said, marching along the tree lined path.

Dad struggled to keep up. All I thought about was being first in. But there was no chance of that. At the speed dad was walking, we'd be lucky to make it through the gates, before they shut.

‘A woman gave me the ticket.’ I explained, for the sixth time today. ‘Drew, her cat, he slipped into the pond. I saved him from drowning. The woman was thankful. When I got out of the water, she took my hand. At first, I had no idea what the folded piece of silver paper in my palm was. I didn’t notice it was there. Then Kyle put the question in my head. When I unfolded the ticket, I couldn’t believe my luck. It was an invite for two to the Pick Quick Libraries…’

‘Son, why the long pause?’ asked dad.

‘I didn’t have time to thank the woman, she was gone.'

'Just like that?’

'I don't know where she went. It's like she wasn't there.' Squinting, I tried to make sense of the stranger’s sudden disappearance. ‘Kyle's sure he didn't see anyone. I was dry too. Strangely, there wasn’t a drop of water on me.’

‘That’s some story.'

'Kyle thought that too,' I told dad. 'I’ve heard a lot about the Pick Quick Libraries. Some say the people there are gifted, witches, wizards.'

'When I was your age I wanted to believe that too.' Dad pulled a doubtful face. Anything beyond his realm of understanding he found hard to grasp. 'Magic,' he said, his mood soured. 'You’d be mad to believe in it.'

'You once did,' I reminded him. 'There was a time when you wanted to visit the Pick Quick Libraries.'

'Not anymore.' Dad seemed to think he knew better than me.

I thought he was deliberately being over judgmental. 'Browsing the Pick Quick Libraries website, I’ve seen messages from all over the world. Those who’ve visited there, make their experience sound like great fun.'

'And there are those kids who bully and tease for the fun of it,' said dad. 'They've got nothing better to do, so they make up farfetched stories.'

'The Pick Quick Libraries isn’t just about stories. There’s magic there too,’ I told him.

‘They say that, but it doesn't mean it’s true.’ Dad puffed out his cheeks, clearly, he struggled to find my argument anything but credible.

I wondered whether I should have invited Kyle instead. Still. I had no regrets. Under his tough exterior, dad was a softy, he just needed to mellow out. I was sure once we were in the grounds of the Pick Quick Libraries, he'd soon change his mind. He would understand what all the fuss was about.

‘If there is magic in that place, this would explain what happened to the woman,' I said.

'The vanishing woman.' Dad looked at me like I was mad.

To me it made sense. 'She has to be a witch, an enchantress, a sorceress. That's how she slipped the ticket into my hand without me noticing. And she was gone without Kyle even knowing she was there.’

‘Since I can remember, you've always wanted to visit the Pick Quick Libraries,’ said dad, he sounded disgruntled by what I told him.

‘I’m not alone,’ I said. ‘I could have given my other invite to Kyle, he wanted to be my plus one.’

‘He’s not anymore, I am,’ said dad.

There was a lilt in his voice. It spoke volumes, I knew he found my story unbelievable. Not that I cared. I was sure he was thankful. For me, he always wanted to secure a ticket to the Pick Quick Libraries. On the website there were raffles. But a puzzling question too. No one knew where the Pick Quick Libraries would be next, it was a lottery, with a fantastic reward for the winners. For his countless effort, dad got to join an endless que of disappointed parents.

‘It’s alright dad, I know. You think I’m lying about the woman and her cat,’ I said. Sometimes it was hard getting him to believe anything.

‘As I said, that’s some story.’ Dad had regret on his face. He clearly wanted to believe me. ‘Put yourself in my shoes. A vanishing woman just doesn’t add up. But what do I know?’

‘Only what I’ve told you,’ I said warily.

‘Thanks to you we’ve a silver ticket with your name on it. Maybe you should save cats more often. Overnight you could turn it into a money-making business.’

I can’t say I gave dads suggestion much thought. To be realistic, in my lifetime, my chances of saving another cat on Clapham Common, in the pond, were next to nil. I suddenly turned my attention to the silky, bright coloured wall, which circled the grounds of the Pick Quick Libraries. Above the pointed peeks of a sea of colourful tent tops, was a big white tent with a flapping flag at its peak. In bold shimmering writing was written, (the Pick Quick Libraries)

Dad and I turned the corner of the barrier wall. The queue at the entrance was shorter than I expected. There was a woman with two boys at the front, and behind them a man with a girl. We hurried forward. Watching, I despaired as a guard drew the righthand gate shut, giving way to the visitors to enter by the remaining open gate. Clearly dad and I were the last of the late arrivals. I was hopeful to think we arrived in time. If we were moments later, the gates would both been closed, and our only chance gone. It was just as the guard went to the second gate, dad and I hurried up to the other tall guard, who had been inspecting tickets. Eagerly I handed him mine.

The guard said my name out loud. ‘Thomas Baker.’ He chuckled.

‘Not another one,’ said the guard standing at the other gate.

‘Thomas Baker,’ I said, eager with excitement. ‘That’s me.’

The guard shook his head. Slowly it dawned on me, along with my hopes, my heart sunk to a low ebb. I knew what he was about to say next but hoped by a small act of mercy I would be proven wrong.

‘Sorry, you’re out of time.' There was no sympathy in the guard’s gruff, East London accent. He seemed to be enjoying his job.

Dad quickly challenged the decision to refuse us entry. 'What do you mean out of time?' He was furious. ‘That gate’s still open!’

'In the righthand corner of your ticket, the time's printed. This is the Pick Quick Libraries. For security purposes all late arrivals must be refused entry,' explained the guard. 'Unfortunate for you, you and your son are half an hour late.'

'A moment ago, you let those people enter.' In protest, dad pointed in the guard’s face. ‘Just this once can’t you forget.’

'No Mr Baker. The tickets of those visitors were valid, their entry time, three-thirty, they weren’t late.' The guard seemed smug as he announced this. 'But you are,' he quickly added.

'Oh no,’ I said, suddenly realizing my one chance had slipped away. ‘Dad, they won't let us in.’

Chapter 3

Librarian



*

Good to see you’ve arrived, not a moment too late,’ said the woman, suddenly stepping from behind the bars of the second gate, that was partway closed. ‘Thomas Baker. I've brought along a friend to see you.’ She stroked the head of the black and white cat, cradled to her chest.

‘Drew.’ I reached up and ran a finger behind his large, pointed left ear, tickling him. Suddenly luck was smiling on me. Whoever the mysterious woman was, I knew she had influence in the Pick Quick Libraries, and if anyone could help, she would. ‘Good to see you too,’ I said.

The guard protested. ‘Mam,’ he said to the tall woman. ‘You know how it is, late is late. For security reasons they can't be permitted entry. This rule applies to everyone.’

I looked up at the badge pinned to the guards bright, white shirt. His name was Mike.

‘There’s just my son and I,’ dad pleaded. ‘You don’t know what this means to him. Refuse us entry, you’ll shatter a boy’s dreams.’

‘Mr Baker, is your son interested in reading books?’ asked the woman, bluntly.

‘Yes Mam, he’s a natural.’

She seemed pleased with the reply. Tilting her head, she squinted against the sun. ‘That’s good enough for me. At the Pick Quick Libraries there's a book on every subject, for everyone. You might even pick one up yourself.’

‘I hope too,' said dad. 'I’d hate to leave empty handed.’

The other guard, James, who stood at the half open gate, signalled me forward. ‘I shouldn’t do this,’ he said, with reluctance. Then he pressed a stamp with a five-pointed star, on the back of my hand. After that, he did the same to dad. ‘Young man, go right in,’ he told me, in an Est London ascent, like Mike’s. 'Happy reading.'

Dad and I walked beyond the gate that squeaked shut behind us. At once I was drawn to the sights and sounds all around. There were stalls everywhere, some sold drinks, snacks, toys and games. And to match the number of stalls, there were just as many tents, big and small. They were all shades of red, blue, orange, green, mauve, and yellow. Some had stripes, squares, dots, and others were covered in strange writing. There was also a poster board outside each tent, which gave any passers by a clue to what books were inside.

Eagerly, I searched for the shortest queue, and with dad following, rushed towards the Second-hand Library. Amidst the surrounding colour, this tent seemed out of place. It was anything but special. It didn’t have an eye-catching colour like the others. It was crooked, tattered, and blown by the slight wind, pieces of dusty cloth, flapped around it. Also, as it swayed back and forth, it looked unsafe, like at any moment it would collapse. This had to be why no one seemed to notice or show the slightest bit of interest in the tent.

An old man sat on a stool outside the Second-hand Library. Bushy white eyebrows hid his small, grey eyes. His hair was long and white. The grimy robe wrapped round his thin frame was dark red. In a skeletal, frail hand, he held a thin, twisted, wooden staff. It was crowned by a yellow star, no bigger than a grape.

At first appearance, he appeared to be asleep, or in some far-off trance. He didn't blink. Neither did he make any attempt to acknowledge dad and I.

'We should try another tent.' Dad waved a hand before the wizened man’s face. 'It’s no good, son, he's out of it.'

'But I want to go inside,' I told him.

'Poor man, the heat.' Dad stepped back. 'Its zapped the life out of him.'

'Well. Since we're here we could look inside?' I reached for the tent flap. Suddenly the wizened man’s staff shot out, guiding my arm away.

‘My name is Ayden.’ He gave me a curious look and sighed. ‘I’m the owner of the Second-hand Library. Who might you be?'

'Thomas Baker,' I replied, unsure what to say next.

The wizened man clutched his staff in both hands. 'As librarian, my duty I uphold with great esteem. None can entre without first requesting my permission. To those whom have never venture within the Second-hand Library, I say this to you. Young man, spare a thought. You're in for a treat.'

'Really.' Pondering, I tilted my head, squinting, trying to peek inside the tent, through the small gap in the flap.

'That's some boast.' Dad gave a slight chuckle, not directly at the librarian, but as though trying to make sense of everything.

Dad ran his fingers through his hair, puffing out his cheeks. He did this when he was in doubt, yet on this occasion he was likely just as curious as I was.

Compared to the surrounding tents, the Second-hand Library was small, no taller than seven feet tall. What was inside it baffled me. Not that I was put off by second-hand books, some of the best titles were out of print. I only imagined, minus Ayden's vision of grandeur, there wasn't much inside the tent. On my entry I'd probably encounter a few stacks of dusty books. It wouldn't take long to find a title I liked.

The wizened man ignored dads mocking chuckle. 'Young man,' he said. His frail thin fingers, spread across his thin, quivering knees. 'It might please you to know you're privileged. You're my first visitors this afternoon.'

'Great,' I said. 'Hopefully you won't be the last.'

'You just might be,' said dad under his breath. He seemed impatient.

Ayden gave him a beady-eye squint. 'I must inform you you'll have to wait a while longer.' He stiffly directed his attention back to me. 'Within the Second-hand Library, you’ll find the most popular, donated books.’

‘I don’t mind how many hands a book’s been in, as long as it’s a good read,’ I admitted, my excitement mounting all the while.

‘Might I add. My books are archived in order, according to the alphabet,' added the wizened man. 'Do not misplace a single book. Or on your way out, when you collect purchased books, you'll discover an added fee. As librarian, it's most annoying having to go around replacing misplaced books.'

'I'm tidy,' I said, eager to venture inside the tent. 'When I'm finished you won't know I've been in there.'

'Very well, so be it on your head. The penalty fine does add up.' The librarian grinned, and a pondering, far off gaze came to his face, then was quickly gone. 'Before entering the Second-hand Library, there's one last detail. I must ask you to wear one of these.’ Putting aside his wood staff, Ayden dug around in the bucket to his left, and took a bright, orange, rubber band from it. ‘Raise your wrist,’ he told me.

I screwed up my face.

'Come along,' he chided. 'You could try harder. Any will do.'

‘That bands not my favourite colour,’ I confessed, noticing it was the same sickly colour as my T-shirt. The present dad gave me, last week, for my thirteenth birthday. I wore it because he pestered me, earlier today, saying he hadn’t seen me wear it. ‘Do I have to put that on?’ I asked the librarian.

‘Consider this a simple procedure. No visitor is exempt,' replied Ayden. ‘You’re entering the Second-hand Library. I know what you’re thinking. From outside it doesn’t look like much. Yet, it’s safe to enter, and is far bigger inside than on the outside. Be my guest, see for yourself. But first I insist you slip on this band.'

'For good luck?' I asked, mockingly.

'Not at all. To prevent you from being lost.' The wizened man raised a bushy eyebrow at me. 'As long as you wear it, I’ll know where you are. There are arrows pointing the way, and alphabetical signs to follow, but with so many letters, and pathways to take, the way back isn't easy to find.’

‘I don’t mean to sound rude it’s just.’ I tried hard not to laugh at Ayden. But a smile dimpled my cheeks. ‘Your tent's a bit small. If it has an inside, it’s hard to believe I could lose my way. I’ll be in and out in the blink of an eye.’

Dad nudged my shoulder. ‘Go on,’ he whispered in my ear. ‘Humour the old fellow. Play along with him.’

'I can't.' The idea was dumb.

'You can,' dad hissed back. 'I would come along too.'

'There isn't enough space,' I told him.

'If you find a book you know I'd like, get it for me,' dad said.

I gave a low moan, razed an arm, and allowed the wizened librarian to secure the band to my wrist.

‘There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ asked Ayden. As his bushy, right eyebrow lifted, an inquiring expression spread across his, deep set, lined face. His small grey eye blinked at me. ‘You too must’ve noticed its bright orange. The same colour as your T-shirt. And I see, you’re left handed.’ He quickly noticed. ‘Let me think, your dad. Is he by chance, right handed?’

‘Yes,’ replied dad, he looked puzzled because the librarian was correct.

‘I’m often good at guessing,’ said the wizened man.

‘No thanks,’ he said, as Ayden went to take another rubber band from the bucket.

‘Really, as librarian of the Second-hand Library, I must insist,’ he told dad.

‘I’ll wait,’ said dad to Ayden. ‘Son, find yourself a book or two. And don’t be hurrying back. I’ll be here waiting.’

Straight away I guessed dad didn't show on the outside, what he thought, but inside he was likely laughing at Ayden’s grand vision of the Second-hand Library. And to be honest, I couldn’t blame him. There was no denying the tent was small. In the whole of the Pick Quick Libraries, it was likely the smallest tent around. I held the flap aside, before entering, I peered inside, and gave a loud cough. The air was thick with dust. It was dark, I saw nothing, but I wasn’t scared.

Chapter 4

Liquid Pool



*

The Second-hand Library was lit by dim lanterns that hung overhead. There were rows of shelves everywhere, and at random, books of all sizes and topics filled them. There were three desks of dark polished, mahogany wood, with matching, calved chairs to my right. Turning in all directions I attempted to get my bearings. There were tall, long mirrors, they were all around. These reflected the dark wood bookcases. The illusion was the Second-hand Library appeared to be an endless maze. Counting the turnings, I walked up and down many isles, searching, hoping to find at least two or three books. And I couldn't forget dad. There had to be a book for him too. With many titles to choose from, this wasn’t an easy task. It wasn’t long till the reason why Ayden wanted me to wear a band, became obvious. The tent was much larger than I thought possible.

By the time I’d chosen three books, I was ready to leave. And it was on the way to the entrance, I was distracted. To my left, on the floor, was something odd. It looked like a round shaped mirror. Approaching it, I gasped. What I saw wasn’t a mirror, but a pool of rippling, liquid light. There was an image at its centre, it grew, filling the surface of the circle.

I found myself gazing down at a boy, sat at a desk. He had a slight chubby build, spotty nose, and brown, shoulder length hair. He looked my age, thirteen. At once it dawned on me who he was. The boy was me. A bright object flashed in the palm of my hand. And in the shadows, like a stone statue watching over me, stood a tall woman. Through the gloom I couldn’t see her face. But I had a feeling we'd already met.

‘Who are you?’ I wanted to know what was going on. Hurrying to my knees, I dropped my books at the poolside, peering closer. ‘Why am I there? Say something, tell me what’s going on.’

As if they were both about to answer my question, the two reflections in the liquid pool, looked in my direction. The woman came closer to the boy at the desk. She was the owner of Drew, the black and white cat. The cat was cradled in her arms. Their piercing eyes peered at me, this scared me, causing me to jump back with sudden fright.

Do they see me? I wondered, as a sudden surge of panic, whittled away my bravery. I hope not.

I tried hard to deny what I saw yet wondered, as I saw them, did they see me too? Then it occurred to me they weren't looking at me, but something else. And it was here, in the Second-hand Library. I shot a quick glance over my left shoulder. Before it faded, I saw it in a mirror. The monster was large, with a hairy round body, clawed, spider like legs, and a long snout. Suddenly I turned back to the liquid pool, it was gone.

Chapter 5

Prize


*

Witch Raina told the villagers of Elm Forest, she'd find a way to lift Wizard Troxell’s curse from Elm Town, some doubted her.' Lady Quillington, the storyteller, added a hint of mystery to her subtle voice. ‘And others had faith in Raina... Magic warmed the hearts of those that believed in the witch. While those who did not trust her, their lack of trust left them afraid. It was on the morning after the full moon, of the twelfth month, the day of his sons passing, Wizard Troxell’s curse waned just for that day. He took stock of his spells. And Witch Raina sent forth her challenge, a snake. When early evening dawned over Elm Town, the thick fog, which turned any townsfolk who ventured into it, to trees, shrubs, or blades of grass, never returned. The victorious Witch Raina sat on the windowsill of her thatched roof cottage. She watched as the townsfolk trampled along the pathway, through the trees. The snake she held wrapped itself, twice around her arm. She guided its head close to her own.’ Lady Quillington paused, with the large storybook balanced across her knees.

Sat in the front row, I was glued to my seat. Peering up at the stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Lady Quillington was a talented storyteller. I only wished she wouldn't stop so often, hesitantly, leaving me and those in the tent waiting on hooks. As though she might have read my thoughts, with the flick of a page, she continued.

‘The snakes forked tongue licked Witch Raina's cheek. She felt no fear. If anything, the snake’s affection tickled her. The snake hissed. Its work was done.’ Lady Quillington stopped reading.

There was a long silence. She paused at the right place. Everyone seated in the Storyteller's Library, must’ve been eager to know what happened next. The snake was sent by Witch Raina, as a challenge to Wizard Troxell. But for its mischievous encounters on its return journey, now its work was done, what fate would the serpent endure?

‘Witch Raina, assured the townsfolk, the snake was harmless.’ Lady Quillington glanced up from the book. 'It didn’t mean to bite, Mildred, the farmer’s wife, on the bottom. She nearly sat on the snake as it perched, coiled on her rocking chair. And it never wanted to scare the children in Mr Hedley’s school. Neither did it mean to bring life for the villagers of Elm Town, as they searched for it, to a complete halt. All the while the snake was trying to find its way home. Then Witch Raina removed her tussled, cone shaped hat, and slipped the snake inside, sending it back to where it came from.’ Slowly, Lady Quillington closed the book of stories.

To my back, the crowd clapped, whistled, and cheered. Wrapped in a Starry, black robe of shimmering silk, again Lady Quillington watched me from her seat on the stage. All through the stories, I’d noticed her eyelids flicked up, constantly fixing on me. At first, she made me nervous. But not anymore. When she turned her head, looking at dad, I sighed with relief. I thought she'd forgotten about him.

In a deep trance like sleep, he lay stiff like a plank, hovering behind her, above the stage. Dad never did like magic, he didn’t believe in it. He was only here because I wanted to hear the storytellers’ tales. An hour in, near the end of her reading, she requested the assistance of a volunteer, a parent. I was shocked when Lady Quillington chose dad to take part in her closing magic act. I had no idea why he agreed, I protested, I warned him it was a bad idea. I was wasting my breath. Dad, I might’ve guessed, he wouldn’t listen to me.


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