Your children can read along as they listen to short story writing contest winner, Mr. Oviarty’s Mysterious Bookshop. This STOR14S episode, written by Eleanor Launchbury and read by Emmy-winning actor Jeff Daniels, will be released on Spotify and Apple Podcasts on June 25, or you can listen here:
And if you enjoy this story, learn more at GEANCO, who are helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and improving lives in Nigeria.
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Mr. Oviarty’s Mysterious Bookshop
by Eleanor Launchbury
Mary Brookes had the whole afternoon to herself.
Her mom had dropped her off in the town center earlier and Mary was trying to think of things to do.
She could feed the ducks in the park, spend hours in the library or she could take a wander and see which shops took her fancy.
Mary was so busy thinking of all the ways to spend the afternoon that she didn’t even take note of where she was walking. It was only after a while that she realized she had walked to an area of town that she didn’t recognize.
All of the shops along this street looked rather strange. One shop was painted a hideous mauve with green window frames, whilst another shop had six chimneys closely lined up next to each other atop a rather mossy roof.
The pavement had changed from the dull gray concrete of the town center and was now made of cobbled stone. No birds tweeted in the trees, and the steady thrum of traffic had vanished without Mary noticing.
Although the signs on the various shops proclaimed them open, there was no movement beyond the dusty windows. It seemed to Mary that she could be the only human left in the world. That is, until she heard a door creaking open to her left and the faint thud of footsteps.
“Hello?” Mary called out. “Is there anyone there?”
No answer came but Mary could sense someone was watching and waiting for her next move. She hesitantly walked over to the shop that had its door open a crack and peered up at it. From what she could read of the sign behind years of dirt and grime, the faded gold lettering proudly proclaimed “Mr. Oviarty’s Second-Hand Bookshop.”
“Oviarty. That’s a funny name,” Mary muttered to herself.
“Humph! Better than being any old Smith or Brown!”
Mary jumped back in surprise at the sudden voice coming from the depths of the gloomy shop. She squinted her eyes but still couldn’t see anyone, so she crept to the door and gingerly pushed it open a little further.
“Hello? I’m sorry, I just thought ‘Oviarty’ was a curious name,” she explained, worried that she might have offended the man behind the disgruntled voice.
“Curious? Why should it be curious? Isn’t a name the business of its owner? Should I have to defend my name against anyone who finds it unusual?”
The voice seemed to be getting more irritated with each question he uttered. Mary was still a little nervous about entering the strange shop, but she was beside herself in thinking that she had upset the man.
“I really am sorry! You’re right, Oviarty is an interesting name. I’m just a boring old ‘Brookes,’” Mary said.
She looked around the shop to try and work out where the man might be hidden. No sooner had she caught sight of movement to the back of the shop, she then heard the man excitedly call out again.
“Books? Did you say books?”
Footsteps tapped across the old wooden floorboards of the shop and Mary finally caught her first glimpse of the shop owner. A puff of white hair sprouted from the top of his head, and reminded Mary of a cloud in the way that it seemed to float up and down with each step he took.
Silver wire framed glasses were perched on top of a rather bulbous nose and the man wore a deep red waistcoat with matching silver buttons. Thick gray eyebrows above cool blue eyes were raised in question and Mary remembered that the old man had asked a question. Mary shrugged her shoulders.
“Not books — ‘Brookes.’ Although I wish I was called books, because I adore them.”
This seemed to be the right answer and any leftover anger had vanished because the man threw up his hands in delight.
“Then you are in the right place, my dear!” he loudly exclaimed.
Indeed, looking around the store, it seemed Mary had stumbled into the perfect place to spend her afternoon. There were stacks and stacks of books everywhere. The wooden floorboards were barely visible in some areas because of the piles scattered on top. Mr. Oviarty himself had now turned away from Mary and was extracting a book from a crammed bookshelf.
“Ah! Here it is.” He beamed and flicked through it absently. “I knew it would get sold today.”
Mary watched in bemusement as Mr. Oviarty slowly made his way over to her and firmly placed the book in her arms.
“I was going to have a look around before I bought anything, sir. I’m not sure what I want to buy yet,” Mary said, very confused with Mr. Oviarty’s actions.
“This book chose you, my dear. It is not a matter of want; rather what you need.”
Mr. Oviarty smiled at Mary and patiently patted her hand. “Run along now. I am a very busy man.”
“How much do I owe you, sir?” Mary asked hurriedly, having realized that there was no way she could refuse the book when the old man was so intent on her having it.
Mr. Oviarty dismissively waved his hand over his shoulder and shook his head. “If a book is meant for you, I don’t expect money.”
Mary’s brow furrowed and she looked down at the book held tightly in her hands. “But how do you know it was meant for me, sir?”
No answer came so Mary looked up. Mr. Oviarty, despite having stood mere feet in front of her just moments before, had completely disappeared. Mary wildly turned her head back and forth in an effort to spot the man.
“Mr. Oviarty? Hello?”
Mary peered around the bookshelves and behind the desk. Even though she thoroughly searched the shop, it seemed that Mr. Oviarty had disappeared into thin air. Mary backed out of the shop slowly. She felt that she was leaving feeling more confused than when she had entered, but at least she had a new book to read and a way to spend the rest of the afternoon.
Mary retraced her steps back to the part of town that she knew and headed to the nearby park with the pretty lake and tall beech trees. She found a lone bench to sit on and looked down at her new book. It was clearly very old. There must have once been a dust jacket to cover the pale green material, but it was long gone. The book was quite thick and the edges of the pages were an aged brown. Mary couldn’t see a title or author anywhere, so she flicked to the front page.
“Madam Deavano’s Book of Truths,” Mary read aloud. She briefly wondered who Madam Deavano was, but Mary was too curious to stop herself from leafing through the next few pages of the book. To her dismay, the pages were blank. Mary flicked back and forth to try and see if she was missing anything. No luck. The creamy pages remained empty of any words and Mary couldn’t help but feel a blossom of disappointment grow in her chest. Annoyed, she threw the book onto the bench next to her and absently watched a family walk along the path in front of her. She couldn’t help but overhear what the young boy was shouting at his father.
“I didn’t take the last biscuit! It was JoJo!” he screamed, pointing an accusing finger at a girl that Mary guessed was his little sister.
The man looked between his children and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know who took it but if it was you, JoJo, I’m very disappointed.”
Mary shifted her attention away from the arguing family and looked around the park again.
As her gaze passed over to her right, she caught a strange glowing light out of the corner of her eye. Looking down, she saw that the white glow was coming from the book beside her. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the light vanished.
Mary picked the book up and carefully opened it. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting to see, but it certainly wasn’t the words that now filled the second page — the same page that moments earlier had been empty.
“Dan Barker ate the last biscuit and kicked his sister when she threatened to tell their father.”
At first the words meant nothing to Mary, until she remembered the small family that had just passed by. Disbelief made her drop the book and it fell on the floor, opening up to the title page: Madam Deavano’s Book of Truths.
Mary couldn’t help but guess what the title meant, based on what she had just read. Yet … she didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. It was best that she investigated, so she gathered her book up and stood. She felt giddy with excitement. It could be that she was being silly, but Mary thought that, perhaps, she had stumbled upon something wonderful.
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