‘What is going on?’ I asked myself as I entered the bookshop. There was a definite chill in the air, more than usual for this time of year and yet a different kind of chill – more encompassing somehow.
As I surveyed the bookshop, I could see at least a dozen books had been pulled proud of the others and were sitting perilously close to the edge of the shelves. This had been going on for almost a week now and every day it was different. There didn’t seem to be a pattern, with some shelves having two or more books moved, whilst others had none.
As I re-aligned the books, specks of dust swirled in the light streaming through the windows. I was mystified as to how and why this was happening and why the chill seemed so heavy, so – enveloping, almost as though someone was in the bookshop with me, watching me.
‘Of course! That’s it! It’s been happening ever since Halloween!’ I remembered now, some of the local teenagers had come into the bookshop just before Halloween and caused mayhem in the comic section, and the display I had created with skeletons and ghosts to promote the latest ‘Ghouls and other creatures’ comics. I had also put a plastic pumpkin with sweets in for the younger ones, but that had caused some issues with the parents and I had to take it away. ‘Shame really’ I thought to myself as I stood in the kitchen at the back of the shop making my morning cuppa, ‘It could have increased the trade’.
Since the opening of a commercial bookshop in the town, sales had dwindled and I was unsure how long I could sustain the business plus pay myself and the staff their wages. Luckily, the only other member of staff was Mrs Hedges whom I had inherited with the bookshop when my uncle had passed away. Uncle Derek, who had owned the bookshop since retiring, and with whom I had spent many a summer holiday with, had left it to me in his will.
During the School holidays, I would spend time in the bookshop, putting out the latest novels and helping customers find what they were looking for, and when it was quiet, uncle Derek would tell me ghost stories. He always said the bookshop was haunted and told me, more than once, about the story of the beheaded ghost that rode through the shop every Friday night on his horse (apparently, the bookshop was built over an old road). He never said where he was going though. Of course I thought it was just his imagination, and him enjoying scaring me. He also had a wicked sense of humour and I would often find him dressed in some character from the latest book or comic.
Not knowing how to run a business, especially a bookshop, I had to learn fast. I enrolled in night school to understand the basics, and that was where I met Tony. He was a single Dad and I remembered seeing him with his daughter in the reading area of the shop.
Looking around me now, I spotted a book I’d missed earlier. I went over to push it back and as I did so read the spine – The Highwayman. I gasped as I remembered the stories my uncle told me about how the highwayman would lie in wait for stagecoaches. Suddenly, the temperature dropped, and I felt a rush of cold air, almost as though a ghost had walked past. I shuddered; was it because of the memories, or the cold?
As I moved round the bookshop, I noticed the front door was ajar. Had someone come in and left quickly without me knowing? I pushed it closed, and noticed as I did, a few snowflakes drifting down. That’s where the cold came from! ‘Not a ghost after all’ I thought.
The rest of the day was uneventful and, being Wednesday, I closed at 1.00pm.
It was a crisp autumnal morning that greeted me as I walked into the book shop. Once again books were sitting proud of the others. As I pushed them back in, I read the titles: Dragons; Everything you need to know about stamp collecting; Ready for anything; Engines – steam and others; and Knots – all a captain needs to know. Although again no pattern, I did mentally take note of the first letter of the titles – D – E – R – E – K.
Oh! My heart pounded and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I froze as I took this in. Was it my uncle trying to contact me or was my imagination running away with me?
‘Morning!’ came the bright and breezy voice of Mrs Hedges. I spun round, startled.
‘Morning’ I replied once composed. ‘Um, have you noticed the books being moved Mrs Hedges?’ .
‘They used to pop out on occasion, probably due to the trains running past in the night. Those big freight ones carrying all sorts.’ Mrs Hedges said. ‘Oh, okay’ I replied, ‘but do you think more are being moved than before? I mean, lately?’
‘Possibly, can’t say I’ve taken much notice.’ Mrs Hedges replied, ‘Tea?’
As Mrs Hedges went into the kitchen, I looked around the shop again. All quiet apart from a couple of people browsing.
‘Hi, how’s it going?’ said Tony as he entered the shop with his daughter trailing behind.
‘Fine, thanks’ I replied ‘You?’
‘Glad Halloween is finally over, I’ve never read so many ghost stories’ he said. ‘I thought I’d help out with the reading at Josie’s School, but all the children wanted were stories about ghost and ghouls. In fact, the scarier the better!’
‘Ah, well it is that time of year I suppose,’ I said. ‘Anything you need today?’
‘No thanks, just having a look to see what you have’ he said. ‘Josie has read all her books. Crikey it’s cold in here. No heating?’
‘Yes, it’s on,’ I replied checking the radiator nearby. ‘Feel, it’s hot’.
‘Strange,’ we both said in unison and laughed, a little embarrassed.
Tony and Josie went to the reading area and I went to the kitchen to find Mrs Hedges. I looked down and noticed a book on the floor. As I picked it up, I saw it was open on page 13. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but the bookshop was number 13 Aylesbury Avenue, in a quiet side street set back from the main shopping area.
I looked at the page and noticed some words had been underlined. Who would have done that I wondered to myself. I scanned the page and picked out the words High, The, Man, Way.
‘It doesn’t make any sense. Oh wait!’ I thought – ‘The Highway Man! This is getting weird now.’ ‘Uncle Derek?’ I called in a low voice not really knowing know what to expect. Nothing happened, and I replaced the book.
It was closing time and as I locked the front door, I took a moment to reflect on the day’s events and reminisce about the summer holidays spent here. So happy and carefree back then.
Bang! I jumped and spun round ‘Who’s there?’ I called into the shop. I stood and listened; all was quiet. I walked gingerly round the bookshelves, my eyes wide with fear, my heart thumping in my chest, and my breathing quick and shallow.
It was in the comic section that I found a large book on the floor with several comics surrounding it. It must have fallen from the self and knocked the comics from the table on its way down. But how?
‘Who’s there?’ I called again.
Again, nothing. I walked slowly closer to the comics, and as I did so, I saw a shaft of light coming in from my right illuminating the cushions on the floor. As I studied the dust flecks swirling round, my eyes met with a pale grey figure. It was almost translucent, but I could see it was a man.
He was sitting on the bench under the window with a copy of…The Highwayman. It was uncle Derek. I gasped, not believing what I was seeing. He motioned for me to come forward and patted the seat next to him. This was what we did in the summer holidays. I would sit next to him whilst he read The Highwayman and told me ghost stories. It was at this moment that I really missed him.
With my heart still pounding and my legs now turned to jelly, I walked tentatively towards the bench and sat down. I felt his spirit wash over me as I closed my eyes.
‘You’re still with me,’ I whispered, and as I opened my eyes I saw him mouth the word ‘always’.
I realised that the ‘ghost’ was my uncle. He’d been trying to contact me by moving the books and especially around Halloween as this was his favourite time of year. As I thought of it, I wondered if it really was true about the beheaded horseman and, were there any other ghosts that haunted the shop.
Now, whenever I go into the bookshop and see the books sitting on the edge of the shelves, I know Derek has been here.
My uncle Derek.
The ghost of the bookshop.
A place he loved so much he didn’t want to leave.