Runner-up in the Library Magazine Short Story Competition for 2011.
The Race of My Life by Stefan Nicholson
A warm, orange sun rose up into the pink sky over the sea. Another glorious morning had dawned as I reached up and stretched before getting out of bed. It had been a long, hard, tiring week but today was the release date of Clarkson’s new autobiography and I was feeling excited. Only two hundred copies had been printed and I was popping down to the bookstore to collect my copy. I had read the description of the book online and it looked good. I had just over twenty Clarkson books already in hardback editions and it looked like this book was strictly for collectors like me.
I had been thinking about the book for months and now the release date had finally arrived. I was praying that I didn’t muck this one up. Then again, it was five thirty in the morning so I was quite sure I had got up early enough. I had taken the day off work specially so that I could sit and read the book and cherish it and cover it in cloth so that it didn’t get damaged. Maybe I was being a bit mad about the whole thing but it was, after all, a special limited edition hardback book.
I ran upstairs after a quick breakfast, got dressed and jumped into the car. I had a long drive ahead of me to get to London to the famous Ottaker’s bookshop in the centre of one of the busiest cities on the planet. I had gotten up very early to allow extra time for roadworks, extra time for congestion, even extra time in case I got stuck behind a tractor on a country road. I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I was desperate. My friends thought I was a crazy man on a mission. Now it was time for the mission to commence.
“Please turn left. Ding. Please take the third exit at the roundabout.” The annoying voice of the satnav added to the tension building up inside me.
Sirens rang in my ears as the police raced to the scene of an accident on the other side of the road. I was glad that it wasn’t on this side. Despite planning ahead, a 50 mile-an-hour speed limit earlier on had cost me valuable time. I was worried.
Greater London. The sign told me I was very close to my target. My heart was pounding. I was just a few miles away from getting my hands on my shiny, new, rare book when I hit traffic. The traffic jams were a nightmare. My satnav kept bleeping telling me to take routes that were blocked by other vehicles. My plans were in ruins. All I could do was wait. I was gridlocked, stuck between two lorries and a bus. I just couldn’t understand how there could be a traffic jam on a five-lane road. It seemed impossible that I would reach the shop in time.
As soon as the traffic cleared, I made my move. I didn’t want to run the risk of any more traffic jams so I dumped my car in a supermarket car park and ran across the road into the tube station. I tried to look casual walking down the slow-moving escalator but inside I knew time was rushing past. I jumped on the nearest train I could and got on my way.
I got out at King’s Cross Station. According to the directions I had been given, I still had another agonising mile to go. There were only nine minutes left until the book was released. I ran as fast as I could then spotted the coffee shop sign that meant the bookshop was only metres away.
There must have been about eighty of us waiting outside the shop for the doors to open. When I, at last, held the book in my hands I didn’t even let go of it to let the woman at the till beep it to pay.
I walked outside, relieved and elated. I now had only one thought in my mind, “Where the heck did I leave the car?”
In 2010 the Library Magazine Team ran a Short Story Competition. The winning essay by Aidan Rose was published in the second issue of our magazine The Magic Threshold.
Alice in Wonderland
by Aidan Rose
Alice was the new girl at school. She had only been here a week and was quiet and solitary but she intrigued me. I would often pass her in the grounds and see her staring dreamily into mid-air. My friends and I called her Alice in Wonderland because she always seemed to have her head in the clouds. Whenever I tried to speak to her she would only smile and skip away.
One day I saw her stroking a cat and when it walked away I decided to follow it. The feline moved swiftly, so swiftly that I had to run to keep up with it. It turned a corner almost casually and its tail stuck around almost tauntingly and eventually slipped away. I leapt around to catch it but it had disappeared.
I was angry and embarrassed that I had lost a cat! I decided to keep an eye out for it and a couple of weeks later saw it prowling the grounds like it owned the place.
I crept up on it and, after I had made sure no one was looking, cornered it. It merely looked me up and down snootily. And then it smiled, it literally smiled, showing a neat array of sharp teeth. It then began to disappear, tail first all the way until all that was left was its grin floating in mid-air; and such a broad grin it was too, almost mocking. Then, its grin finally faded away leaving me dumbstruck.
I decided to do some research into all this strangeness so I borrowed the book Alice in Wonderland from the library. I discovered that the cat I saw was undoubtedly the Cheshire Cat and that Alice was, without a doubt, the one from the book.
When I returned to school early the following Monday, I found nobody there. Looking in my planner, I discovered that it was a Bank Holiday. I cursed myself for my ignorance and decided to seek out the Cheshire Cat.
After searching the grounds for half an hour I had decided to give up when I heard a taunting voice ask, “Looking for something?”
I looked up. I was in a small group of trees at the side of the sports ground and had never considered that he may be lounging lazily on the branch of a tree like in the book, yet here he was: the Cheshire Cat.
“I know who you are,” I shouted, “and I’m not afraid!” This was a lie. I was, in fact, very much afraid but I didn’t want to show it. “Tell me what’s going on!” I demanded.
“Very well,” said the cat, “I shall. That book in that bag of yours is special. Publishers are really wizards in disguise. Everyone knows that.” I thought about this carefully but decided to go along with it. “Well, what they do,” the cat continued, “is stop the book worlds from coming into your world. However, they didn’t do that with your copy so this is us entering your world. Do you follow me?”
“I think so,” I replied, “but how do I stop it?”
“Well, you could enter the rabbit hole and go into Wonderland.”
“What rabbit hole?”
“That one,” said the Cheshire cat, as he pointed at a rather large rabbit hole. So, without thinking, I took a run and leapt into the hole.
It was just as it was in the book with cabinets lining the wall and after several minutes I landed in the hall of doors with a thump. I saw the ‘drink me’ potion bottle on the glass table, remembered the mistakes that Alice had made in a similar situation, and made sure not to recreate them. I found the tiny key and searched for the tiny door before I drank the potion and rapidly shrank until I could easily stroll through the door.
On the other side I found a croquet ground. I stood in the middle, bewildered, until I heard a loud bell ringing in the distance. Promptly, a large group of soldiers made of playing cards paraded in, headed by the Queen.
I ran up to her displaying my copy of Alice in Wonderland. The Queen looked at me carefully before screeching irately, “Off with his head!”
Two men ran forward: the King carrying a chopping board and the executioner bearing an axe. The King forced my head onto the block and the last thing I heard was the swinging of the axe and a loud thud. Then I woke up.
I was in the library with the book Alice in Wonderland at my side. I looked up and saw the school librarian glaring angrily at me: “The bell’s gone! Get to class!”
It was then I realised it had all been a dream. The bell had been the school bell and the thud of the axe, the librarian slamming down the thick tome of a book she now held threateningly in her hands.
When she moaned, “Hurry up,” I obliged and strode from the room. Fortunately for me I had English, which was only across the hall so I wouldn’t be late.
Once I was in the class, my teacher told us to write, for the creative writing competition, a short story about reading a book in the library and the characters enter your life. The teacher handed out paper and, as my dream slowly came back to me, I gave an internal chuckle and began to write.