At one particular time in my life, I lived in Manhattan. I had recently moved there for my job as an editor. One day, I was walking down the street from the main library, disappointed I had not found The Book Thief. I had heard such good things about this particular book and wanted to get my hands on it. I love libraries but today it was too crowded. The noise level, even with the librarians shushing everyone, gave me a headache.
I was looking for a cab to take me to the closest café, when I stumbled onto an empty street. It was so quiet; I could hear my boots clicking on the concrete sidewalk. I turned and stopped, stunned. There stood a building shaped entirely like a boot! A painted mural replicated lacing rising from the foot up the ‘leg’ of the building. The tip of the building was curved slightly, pointing up towards the sky.
I looked closer to see a small green sign that read ‘Library.’
I couldn’t help myself. I pushed the door, the tinkle of a bell sounded as I entered. The inside was only one small room, with books all stacked neatly on top of each other. The place smelled of dust, fur, and something unfamiliar, it resembled the smell of pineapple, but was different somehow.
A small, white cat sat on the counter, her tail big and fluffy and her nose pink. I stroked her fur, her sapphire-blue eyes locking with mine.
I read the name tag. “Queenie. Huh.”
I looked around but nobody else seemed present. I noticed a silver bell, lying on the table. I picked it up, flicked it, and waited.
“Hello?” I called.
I rang the bell again.
“Hello?” I said a little louder. A small man jumped from under the desk. “Ah!”
“Ahem, hem. Yes?” he asked impatiently.
“Uh, yes, I’m looking for The Book...” The man held up a hand, interrupting me.
“We don’t have that. Good day.” He started to disappear again under the table.
“Wait! Wait! Can you double-check, please?” I wasn’t giving up—not yet, anyway.
The man frowned. “Wait here.” He bent down, disappearing from view, and popped back up again. “Hmph. Sadly, I have the book you need. Do you have a library card?”
“Yes!” I said and handed him my card from the main library. “Will this work?”
“You have two days to return the book or there will be a fine," the man replied, not answering my question.
“Two days? That’s not much time!”
“Well, then, I guess you better start reading.”
I frowned and left the library, book in my hand and bag slung over my shoulder. At home, I fixed myself some tea and grabbed my bag looking for the book I’d shoved into there on the walk home. I felt something furry inside and when I pulled it out, the white cat nibbled at me to free her.
“Queenie?!” I asked as she leaped onto the table and sauntered over to my cup of tea, to lap at the hot liquid with her pink tongue. I stroked her soft fur and considered keeping this perfect, friendly, and curious cat. I thought about keeping her, but I couldn’t. Certainly, the shop owner would be looking for her, so I decided to return her come morning.
I read through the night, Queenie asleep beside me, purring as I stroked her fur.
The next day I followed my same route to the library, Queenie tucked into my leather bag, snoring quietly, but when I turned down the quiet street and then left, there was no building shaped like a boot, no library, nothing at all.
I stood, puzzled, trying to make sense of it all, only my mind was blank. I wondered if yesterday was some kind of dream but yet I had read the book all night and Queenie was in my bag.
Was this some sort of prank?
People filled the used-to-be empty street as I headed back to my apartment. The day continued, and I did my best to make sense of it all then decided to return the book to the main library. Maybe I was hallucinating and I did find my book at the main library after all. But what about Queenie? Had I randomly decided to adopt a cat? No, it didn’t make sense. As I entered the library, the smell of people overwhelmed me. I walked up to the counter and handed in my book.
“This isn’t ours, Jamie. Where did you get it?” asked Margret.
Suddenly, it all clicked. The answer had been in front of me all along. Why did I have to make sense of everything? Why couldn’t some things just be magic? Because then, I knew, Queenie and the boot-shaped library were magic, and I had been lucky enough to be a part of it.
I handed Margret the book and walked out shaking my head. That evening I stared at Queenie curled up on my favorite chair.
“Are you real?” I asked her.
She just purred in response.
Safyre Joseph-Etheridge is a twelve year old student in seventh grade. She lives in Salwa, Kuwait. She loves writing, physics and her dog Sandy. This is her first published short story.
Illustration by Aidan McDuffie